Many of your readers may remember the television sitcom of the 1970s called “Welcome Back Kotter.” The show takes place in a fictional remedial classroom in a Brooklyn, N.Y., high school. The students of the class called themselves the “Sweathogs.” One oddball but lovable character of the cast was named Arnold Horshack. Arnold would often hang his head out the building window and shout that “we are fed up with this and we are not going to take it any longer.”
Like Arnold, the taxpayers of Jefferson County are telling their elected representatives on public boards they are fed up with this. They are fed up with all the excess taxing and spending by the city, county and some school districts. They are frustrated and angered. They perceive many public officials have an attitude that thinks the only way to solve a problem is to throw more money at it though increased taxation.
The Mt. Vernon City Schools District 80 officials exemplified this attitude when they recently announced they will be seeking an 8 percent increase in property taxes for next year. One board member stated that, “we need to get every possible dime we can.”
His mindset is typical of many board members. Rather than saying, “we need to get all we can,” he and fellow board members should focus on doing better with what they receive. Remember, they recently stood up and stated the reason for a deficit budget was the result of a project that was over budget and not finished on time. Should taxpayers be asked to pay for this?
The Jefferson County Board is another example of this attitude. Some board members state they have no public position on invoking a new sales tax for the renovation of the courthouse. Yet, they send out other board members in townhall meetings to sell the idea and need for an increased sales tax to renovate the facility — somehow that does not seem plausible.
The Mt. Vernon Township High School Board is another example of this kind of attitude. In selling the public on a need for a new school, they low-balled the cost for the building at $62 million and told the public the local share of the cost would be $19 million.
Somehow the average increase projected per year on property taxes was quite a bit more than what was used to sell the new school to voters. Was it not? This would be paid for by increasing the property tax to pay for the bonds needed for the local share of the project. After the project was approved by the voters, the board now tells us the cost could exceed $72 million. Assuming the board can raise the extra $10 million without additional taxes, the interest paid to bondholders over the life of the bond will increase the pay back to those bondholders by reportedly another $14 million, bringing the cost to property owners to reportedly many more millions of dollars.
Some would suggest the City of Mt. Vernon exhibits this same kind of attitude. In recent years, it has borrowed $45 million for various projects. Bonds were sold to get much of this money, and will require interest to be paid to bondholders, bringing the total indebtedness to a lot more than they borrowed.
Adding the combined debt of the county, city, and high school district, the amount reportedly approaches well over $100 million. Considering the total population of Jefferson County is less the 40,000, this is a significant debt burden to impose on our folks and their kids. Keep it up and population growth will decline.
Former United States Sen. Everett Dirksen is reported to have said that a billion here, a billion there, and pretty soon you’re talking real serious money. In the case of our area, a million here, a million there and pretty soon the taxpayers cannot handle any more. I suggest our elected leaders heed Sen. Dirksen’s admonishment,
I also suggest the local government entities take a lesson from the private industry. In fact, government officials have to look no further than the local tire plant located in our community.
Engaged in a very competitive global market in the past, they did not have the option to raise taxes. Instead, they were constantly under pressure to maintain excellent quality while reducing cost. Without these efforts, I do not think you would have a plant here today employing almost 3,000 folks. With cooperation between management and an excellent group of folks who suggested many cost-savings measures, the plant remains competitive to this day.
Eleven thousand suggestions that put over $20 million extra bucks in their pockets was not too shabby in their survival efforts while more than 35 tire plants closed forever, including sister plants owned by Continental in Kentucky and North Carolina.
If Arnold Horshack were among us today he would most likely say that he is “fed up with this, and he wasn’t going to take this anymore”. Then he would probably add, “find other ways to solve problems instead of raising taxes.”
We want to hear how our political leaders have improved cost and efficiency while maintaining excellent quality of service. Keep your hands out of our pockets and learn how to do more with what you have. Every problem or lack of leadership does not require a hand in the pocket of the citizens paying taxes. Try the old-fashioned way of increasing efficiency and reducing cost; you might find you like it and are good at it. I know the citizens that you represent would applaud your efforts.