County Board member, Bond issuance essential to maintain county services
October 13, 2012, Guest commentary by Jan Schumacher, Logan County Board member, If someone asks you to sign a petition about Logan County selling bonds, I encourage you not to sign it - especially since the bond sale would not increase taxes and if the county doesn’t sell bonds, we’d have to take funds from important agencies. Here’s the situation:
The Logan County Board is facing up to $600,000 in expenses for major criminal cases next year – expenses the county is legally obligated to pay. When Gov. Pat Quinn abolished the death penalty and the capital litigation trust fund that paid for expenses related to death penalty cases, the county was dealt a financial blow we didn’t foresee.
With the much-anticipated wind farm currently on hold, the county doesn’t have an extra $600,000 in its $6 million budget. Two options have been identified as ways to pay those criminal case expenses.
Bonds could cover costs
The preferred option is the sale of approximately $700,000 in bonds (which includes a little extra for contingencies) which would in effect allow the county to borrow the money and pay it back over 20 years. These bonds would not raise taxes. The approximate $60,000 in annual interest would be paid for out of existing funds, mostly from the county’s reserves.
The bonds also could be paid off in 10 years, if the county has the funds to do so at that time.
Agency budgets could be slashed
Without revenue from bonds, the county has determined the most feasible way to pay for the criminal cases in 2013 would be to use nearly all the property tax money which normally goes to the Logan County Health Department, the Logan County Paramedic Association, Cooperative Extension and senior services such as the Oasis and Community Action.
Slashing their property tax revenue would create a hardship for these agencies. The Health Department would have to reduce services and lay off employees. The ambulance service would have to increase its ambulance fees to offset that revenue. And services to older residents would be drastically reduced.
Possibility of referendum
A petition is being circulated which would require the county to put the sale of the bonds before the voters in a referendum. Normally that would be fine. However, the problem is timing.
The earliest election which could include the bond referendum would be next Spring, which is too late to include bond revenue in the 2013 budget. We can’t assume the referendum would pass, so the only fiscally responsible approach would be to approve a budget without the bond revenue. That would mean a budget with drastic cuts to the health department and others.
Election would be too late
The county board would have to implement the budget with those cuts until the referendum is held. If it did pass, funding could be restored to those agencies – but those agencies may very well have to reduce services and lay off employees before then.
Please, be informed – and seriously consider what the ramifications could be if you and your neighbors sign the petitions requiring a referendum on the bond issue. As elected officials and citizens of Logan County, we all want the same thing: fiscal responsibility. That is what we are trying to accomplish.
If you have any questions, please email me at email@example.com.