Borrowing wins out in Madison County

October 17, 2013 

Why pay cash when you can borrow? That's the attitude of the Madison County Board, which voted 20-7 on Wednesday to issue $18 million in bonds to pay for renovations at the county jail.

County Board Chairman Alan Dunstan said it would have been "irresponsible" to use the cash reserves for the work. Really? But it's responsible to tax people more than necessary to build up a big, fat reserve fund? The county had $23.26 million in reserve on Nov. 30, the end of the fiscal year. That was 57 percent of the general fund budget.

While the county counts its reserves, many property owners struggle to pay their taxes. Of course, former Treasurer Fred Bathon thought that was a good thing. He got campaign contributions in exchange for letting the people who buy overdue taxes charge sky-high interest rates to the distressed property owners. Bathon pleaded guilty earlier this year, and on Thursday three of the tax buyers also entered guilty pleas.

County officials are excited that bond buyers will get tax-free earnings but don't seem concerned about the taxpayers footing the bill. How much higher will property taxes go as a result of this bond issue? County officials say they don't know.

Stay tuned for that detail. Also, watch which company issues the bonds and who earns the commission. Don't be surprised if those who benefit have ties to the Madison County Democratic Party.

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