"Maybe we'll all be dead and gone before we need it, but I'd rather have it there for the next generation."
-- St. Clair County Board member David Tiedemann about the county's landfill fee fund.
For years, most St. Clair County leaders shared that long-term view. More money went into the landfill fee fund than came out. County leaders wanted to make sure that if a landfill leaked and contaminated the groundwater or caused some other major problem, there would be money to fix the problem.
But now it's the exact opposite. About $6.5 million has been pulled out in the past four years. The fund that in 2009 had about $13.6 million was down to $7.1 million at the beginning of the fiscal year. It won't be easy to replenish it because landfills have closed or will be closing, meaning fewer fees are collected.
Tiedemann believes the money has been used to balance the budget. County Board Chairman Mark Kern said it's being spent to address environmental issues like illegal dumping. The law is written so broadly that the county can justify spending it on all sorts of things.
But that begs the bigger question: Should the county keep its hands off this money just in case?
Absolutely. The state is broke and probably won't be able to help fund a cleanup should a major problem occur.
Kern said no County Board member has ever raised a question about the use of the surcharge money. That's hard to believe, but if he didn't hear about this concern before, he has now.
Kern and the board need to stop depleting this account.