You've heard of the person who buys a house but doesn't know how he will afford to furnish it? It's a similar dilemma for Belleville, which just agreed to buy the Richland III office building for a new police headquarters.
The location is good and the $3.1 million price tag isn't bad. But then you find out that the city expects to spend an additional $7 million doing renovations and modifications. The city also plans $5 million worth of renovations and modifications at City Hall. Suddenly, the price tag has mushroomed to $16 million to $18 million.
How is the city going to afford all that? The city plans to get the $3.1 million from TIF but the funding mechanism beyond that is fuzzy. Clearly, though, spending $16 million to $18 million would mean higher taxes in Belleville.
For the public to judge the projects, city leaders need to do a thorough job of explaining exactly what they are planning, and why.
Does the Police Department really need so much room? Most reasonable people would agree that the department's current 17,000 square feet of office space is too little, but the upgrade to 40,000 square feet may be difficult to justify.
Maybe instead of kicking out paying tenants like the Bank of Belleville, the city could continue to lease out space, which would help pay the bills. What will it cost the city to buy out the bank's lease?
What will residents be getting for the $7 million worth of renovation work? Adding a sally port and holding cell are necessary expenses, but otherwise the building is reportedly in tip-top shape. Is the goal functional or fancy?
The same questions arise with the work planned for City Hall. What will $5 million buy for taxpayers?
In both buildings, city leaders should be thinking modest to keep costs -- and taxes -- to a minimum.