Mt. Vernon Register-News

March 1, 2013

Where do you think the money comes from?



In a small town like ours rumors are similar to street lights; you can find one on every corner. You can even find a rumor about what the next big rumor might be.

I have been writing a weekly column for a few years focused almost entirely on unaffordable cost of health care and the sordid corruption that prevails in our political system. Sometimes I deviate with how speculation in oil and “timely” shutdown of refinery’s cause the price of gas to soar and create so much economical pain for the average folks.

Most of the columns are about either an example of waste and fraud in health care or corruptness in our political system. In reality, the gas issue is also is the result of a corrupt political system because our government could stop speculation any time they decided to do so.

Living in the “poster boy” state for corruption has afforded me the opportunity to learn just how folks suffer when special interest groups (money) dominate the political scene at the expense of the folks who live there. I am going to deviate once more and talk about a local issue that appears to be getting some traction in the news.

A rumor floated around that they were changing the conceptual design of the new high school on the fly and even doing proposals on the backs of napkins. I hope that our memories are not so dim about the strong feelings exhibited on both sides of the issue during the campaign to pass the referendum for a new school.

I personally remained neutral on the issue for two reasons. I was never opposed to the school. I was opposed to a lack of commitment to improving test scores. I also felt that writing a column for the paper that was maintaining a neutral position that I should do the same.

This became a really heated issue between one of the ardent supporters of the new school who felt that I opposed a new school. We debated this strongly once at the fitness center and I think that both of us gained a little more respect once the facts were discussed and he learned that I was not opposed to the new school; just the lack of public commitment from administration to improving test scores. We do not agree on the value of test scores either, but that is a different story. We still discuss issues.

I challenged several times publicly the process of not having more than one proposal from a singular architectural firm. I just knew that you get better proposals for evaluation if you have the opportunity to review them from more than one firm. I discussed with the superintendent the pro’s and con’s of construction management, construction management with shared savings, and firm bids with good specifications and drawings and told him that based on my experience that it would be hard to beat the cost savings associated with firm bid. There are advantages and disadvantages with each method of project management.

Now, having rambled a little, let’s get to where the rubber meets the road. I was appalled to read that after this length of time that any discussion of basic design would be ongoing. The presentations at the park that the people voted on should be the design. In a project of this scope, there will be hundreds of small details to decide, but certainly basic design should have been concluded and good drawings for contractors to bid on by this time.

I read in the paper last Saturday a lengthy explanation attempting to put out the fire about changing the design from what was originally voted on. I absolutely cringe when I read the statement being made that they won’t be coming back to the voters for additional money.

They state that if we are going to build a school that is over $64 to $65 million that they will need to generate the funds to make up the difference elsewhere? The   statement is made that we know we can generate more than the $19.8 million in local revenue.

Let me try and chunk this down in Rip Speak. Stay with me on this one. First, where does the money from the state come from? Do you think that it just might come from the taxpayer’s?

Second, if we are capable of raising additional millions of dollars from reserve funds, anonymous donors and organizations that have special interests as stated; why were these available resources not used originally to lower the burden on property tax owner’s at the outset? What are reserve funds and how much? Who are the special interest groups that want to give additional millions of dollars.

We live in a state that is reportedly over $90 billion in debt to pension funds and behind almost $10 billion behind in paying its bills. We have property tax increases that exceed the $100 average we were told originally for our portion of the school. We have state income tax increases of over 60 percent. We have sales tax increases. Increased taxes have become the first alternative for revenue. How about reducing cost, improving efficiency and reducing waste?

The money from the state is not free; it is not “manna from heaven;” it is money from your taxes that you paid. If I hear one more "we better get it or someone else will” or “we cannot leave anything on the table,” I will just have to accept that special interest will trump average citizen at every point.

I applaud the Past President’s Council for bringing this issue to the forefront. I fully support Mr. Beard’s belief along with Council members that being good stewards of taxpayer’ money is an absolute must. Publicly stating that questions have been answered to an individual or small group is not the transparency you need.

Answer the questions in a public meeting as required. Having focused on the negativity of what is wrong in government so long, it was a pleasant surprise to read that the Past Presidents Council was standing up for the citizens of Mt. Vernon and the County. Kudos’s to this group.

I was also shocked to read that just because the CDB approved $72 million for a project projected to cost $62.5 million with an extra $10 million on the table as stated by Mr. Miller. I must live in a totally different world. Again where do you think this money comes from? Surely, we understand that this money comes from the taxes we pay. We live in the most financially mis-managed state in the USA with unfunded pension liabilities of a reported $90 billion dollars and unpaid bills reported to be $9 billion dollars or more.

I ask again “WHERE DO YOU THINK THE MONEY COMES FROM?” It comes from you!

Let me close with a couple of questions and an analogy of the difference in public project management and how it works in the real world. Folks in the real world managing projects are measured on a lot of things, but the only thing that trumps “on time” and “on budget” is the safety of folks on the project.

If labor and material prices change, you have to find offsets to remain within budget. Design must be sacrosanct. Sometimes it is accepting a Ford with a stick-shift and roll-up windows in place of the Cadillac or Mercedes with all the bells and whistles.

How much have the superintendent and board’s taxes increased?