Fueling jets with red ink

October 21, 2013 

Two recent stories illustrated our ongoing frustration with how finances and our tax dollars are handled by St. Clair County leaders.

First, MidAmerica Airport Director Tim Cantwell was before the Public Building Commission crowing about the marketing campaign for Allegiant Airline boosting website clicks by 1,500 percent. Did any of the appointed head-nodders on the commission ask how much the campaign cost, or how many actual clicks that was, or what kind of airport revenue was realized from that taxpayer-funded investment? Of course not. When our reporter asked for marketing costs, none were provided.

Second, the county's latest audit showed deficit spending for the third year in a row: an $8.1 million deficit. Topping the list of culprits was MidAmerica Airport, which the auditors made a point of highlighting because it required a $5.6 million infusion from county taxpayers.

The other big deficit boosters were municipal tax increment financing districts siphoning $3.7 million away from the county. When that happens, property taxes from everyone else must fill the gap because you know the county's not cutting spending or growing revenue to make it up.

County Chairman Mark Kern was ready with his e-mailed responses, sometimes on point, about the deficit. He blamed interest rates, the recession, $3 million owed by the state but nothing about living within the county's means or specifically about reining in airport spending. He touted the airport's value to saving jobs at Scott Air Force Base, asserted that we'd need to pay someone at current market value to take the airport and rosily looked toward the day when the airport would be in "a break-even financial position."

We're wondering when that day might be? Until then, we'd prefer the county only spend the money it has and allow the elected county board to be responsible for fiscal decisions.

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