Treasure awaits county in Mascoutah cornfield

MidAmerica Airport required a $7.5 million subsidy from St. Clair County taxpayers last year.
MidAmerica Airport required a $7.5 million subsidy from St. Clair County taxpayers last year.

St. Clair County is cutting 10 percent across the board from its new budget, blaming delayed state payments, a potential property tax freeze and at least one unfunded state mandate for juror pay.

Sheriff Rick Watson estimates that will translate into between six and eight fewer deputies and jail officers. The highway department won’t replace three workers and will cut the office supply budget.

The county’s general fund budget for this year was $35.1 million with 955 employees. Maybe they can tweak travel and office supplies, but the reality is that salaries are the lion’s share of the budget and taking out $3.5 million means cutting as many as 95 jobs.

The silver lining of government budget crunches is that bureaucrats are forced to work smarter. It would be nice to think they were always looking out for the public’s money, but in reality it is the crisis that makes the highway department save a buck by making snow removal routes more efficient.

Efficiencies might also be realized by combining the county’s four audits under one firm. Illinois wants a corrective action plan from the county because it is poor accounting to allow the Public Building Commission, the grants department and the flood district to be audited separately from the county.

Taxpayers deserve a financial cop getting the big picture on county spending. It smacks of shell game to separate the entity responsible for MidAmerica Airport from the source of its $7.5 million annual subsidy, plus you’d expect some hard scrutiny of the grants department after the not-too-distant scandals in which lax oversight allowed employees to steal tax dollars intended for the poor.

Chairman Mark Kern’s dismissive attitude of this being one firm trying to get more business is just wrong. If we want fresh eyes on the books, the way to achieve that is to change auditors every five years or so.

As county leaders are casting about for cost savings, maybe the county taxpayers should take a moment to remind their elected leaders that there is a pot of gold disguised as a white elephant just waiting to improve the financial picture. That $7.5 million subsidizing MidAmerica Airport is more than double the amount the county is planning to cut.

The choices we make: Cobwebs in an airport terminal or more deputies on the road.