You drive a Lexus, Mercedes, Jaguar, or other expensive car. I am not going to ask you if it’s paid for or how much it cost. I’ll say it’s a great looking car and probably wish I could afford one similar. You live in a gorgeous mansion, I’ll tell you it too is beautiful and wish I could afford one similar, but I won’t ask you if it’s paid for or how you are going to pay for it. Not my problem or business!!
You administer or serve on the board of a public tax supported body and you have or want a beautiful building or complex, I, as a supporting taxpayer for this project, want to know how you are going to pay for it and how much of the cost will I bear. Then I would like the right to determine if it is something I want or is in great demand for my community, say perhaps a more modern school. The promoters tell me or tell the media how great the new project is and the media and I are eventually seduced. The media and the project promoters keep saying how much this needed and if we don’t build it, someone else will build it and we will be the big losers. We will be the same old town we were before all these people started saying “build it and they will come.”
Then of course it’s built and they do come but not enough numbers to meet the financial projections. The local taxpayer who supported it says, so what, I like it and I don’t mind paying more taxes. The local taxpayer who didn’t support it says, I don’t care how great looking it is, I didn’t want it, I didn’t think the community could afford it and now I find out that you can’t pay for it and you’re going to raise the fees on what I did want and do use, plus raising my property taxes to boot . The people who “come” will say it looks great & that they enjoy it. But the outsiders aren’t paying property taxes for these projects. The “out of the area” people (Think across the river or Dahinda) usually pay less to use the public project than the private project because the public project can lower admission fees. (Think RiverPlex) Public tax supported projects hardly ever go broke, because all the public project administrators need to do is raise taxes or sell new bonds when the project doesn’t meet their poorly thought out projections. When the private sector doesn’t meet projections, they usually go broke.
Of course I’m talking about Peoria. Let me list a few of the bigger projects that didn’t meet projections:
· An article in the JS on 8/31/04, said that the Peoria Chiefs Baseball team had projected attendance of 300,000 and with just three home games left have drawn 200,738. Looks like quite a miss! You say this was and is a private venture. Not quite. Ex-Governor Ryan and Illinois First put millions of dollars in this project. So did the City of Peoria. Where did this money come from? Taxes, of course!
· One Technology Plaza was highly touted by the developer and eventually the Peoria county Board bought space in this building for $940,325.00. They really didn’t need this space but the County Administrator recommended it and pressure was put on the County to cooperate with EDC, the City, the movers and shakers and the prominent developer. They cooperated and now that space sits empty because the project never lived up to its projections.
· I’ll pass on the RiverPlex for now with only these facts. Board member Jim Cummings said “if the RecPlex loses significant money, it could impair and limit current programs. Board President Tim Cassidy said the “RexPlex will be able to support its operations and up to 6,000,000.00 in public bonds and most, if not all, of the bonded indebtedness will be paid through RexPlex operations.” (Journal Star 3/21/99) Actually $10,000,000.00 in bonds was sold for the project and the RiverPlex, (New name because of adverse publicity, has never been able to cover all its operating costs and none of the bond repayment without selling new bonds. Did taxpayer dollars go into this project? How about approximately $4,700,000!! All of this is public information and I have the documentation to back every word said about the RiverPlex and I will some day publish the full story called “The Saga of The Riverplex.
· The highly touted Gateway Center. Missed projections to the tune of $500,000 a year. Ask your City Councilperson.
· Moral of this story. Just because it is beautiful, doesn’t mean we should have it to keep up with the larger cities. If you can’t afford it don’t do; it usually works well in the private sector. It’s called capitalism. Soon it may be called socialism in Peoria.
· For every failure to live up to expectations, there are success stories. Let’s hope the zoo expansion people have a better handle on how all this is going to be paid for and maintained than the above projects. Same for the Museum project and the Civic Center expansion. But don’t count on it. The track record isn’t looking very good for the property tax payer in Peoria.
I’ll sign off with this thought: “Facts do not cease to exist, because they are ignored.”