Friday, July 10, 2009

My Peoria County Board Election Planks - 2000

Listed are the "issues" on which I based my successful run against Zan Ransburg in the Republican primary for my 2000 election to the Peoria County Board. I defeated Democrat Jim Graves in the General Election. Since then I have reelected twice and twice elected to terms as Vice-Chairman of the County Board.

My priorities, in order, were as follows:

1. Reduce property taxes; we reduce the levy but property values are supposedly rising and so are property taxes. Personnel costs and benefits are rising. We had a budget of $80 million in 2000 and a budget of $122 million for 2009. Success?

2. Bel-Wood Nursing Home still has major problems which need to be addressed: Success, no. Three years into my first term, I helped promote a successful referendum to raise property taxes to MAINTAIN Bel-Wood. 2003 property taxes to support BW were $681.000. In 2004, these taxes rose to $1,461,552. By 2008, these taxes had risen to $1,750,609. From 2002 through 2008, BW has collected $15, 349.538.00 in property taxes and indirect taxes plus $300,000.00 from the Counties General Fund for maintenance but BW's condition continued to deteriorate. In 2004, the first year the direct property taxes from the referendum were collected, B-W was $4,395,868.00 in debt even though retirement (IMRF) and FICA costs of $772,246.00 were deducted from Bel-Wood operating costs for the first time that year. In 2005, Social Security and Medicare costs were also deducted from B-W operating costs. These INDIRECT costs that should have appeared in Bel-Wood's operating costs as indirect taxes amounted to $1,222,000 in year 2008. From 2002-2008, these indirect taxes totaled $6,535,818.00, combined with direct taxes, all collected from property tax payers, make it appear Bel-Wood is operating close to break even. Operated like a business, which it is, it is losing millions of dollars each year.

Board members say, but this was all approved in the referendum.

Not true at all. Board member Mayer is quoted as saying, "we could not use the taxes from the referendum for any other purpose. True, but we could remove the tax from the tax payer rolls. But I'm probably the only "politician" who ever suggested removing a tax from your property tax bill. We could have also used this $15 million plus to MAINTAIN Bel-Wood; we didn't, as the 2003 referendum read.

Bel-Wood in 2008 was subsidized by a total of $2,971,245.00 alone. Yet Democrat Allan Mayer said Bel-Wood was making a profit and Republican Carol Trumpe said Bel-Wood was breaking even. When Bel-Wood is heavily subsidized its easy to say it is breaking even or making a profit.

Part of the referendum funds totaling the aforementioned $14+ million meant for maintenance went to pay off this $4+ million debt. Now the County Board has voted to build a new BW at a cost of approximately $41,000,000.00. With only $3 million in the BW building fund, $38,000,000.00 will need to be borrowed over a 30 year term. Figuring 5% interest will drive the total amount paid out to build B-W to approximately $75,000,000.00 over 30 years. Administration projects that by year 2042, BW property taxes collected will amount to $4,500,000.00 a year. Administration predicts that revenues and property taxes rising at 3% a year will allow BW to operate yearly at break-even or better. The County Board majority, concurs.

We are going to build a $41 million new B-W that will compete against the private sector. B-W mission was to be a "safety net" for the poor.

Where the new B-W will be built is still to be determined. The old B-W will be renovated and used for some other county purpose, one possibility being used by the sheriff for overflow now existing at the county jail.

3. Facilities Maintenance: Success? Yes but only after too long a period of time. My platform read: " If elected I will call for the creation of a Facilities Manager to oversee maintenance of all county owned buildings. The county has invested millions in buildings, but has no centralized PREVENTATIVE maintenance program.

At the first Facility Meeting in 2001 under "Goals and Objectives", reads, 'Investigate in conjunction with the County Administrator the need for a Facility Manager for the oversight of all County property'.

Barbara Mantz Drake, then Editor of the JSEB asked me why I would want to spend money for a new position when the county was short of cash. I explained the necessity of a PREVENTATIVE maintenance system but neither she, the county board or County Administrator Urich were convinced. Approximately a year later a major water pipe break caused well over $500,000 damage to the courthouse, plus untold dollars in lost time. A preventative program would have caught the problem.

Yet it wasn't until September of 2006 that a suggestion was made, "Ms. Van Beek is asking the Health Committee's consideration in providing Bel-Wood with a Maintenance Supervisor saying that the building had a 'number of significant maintenance issues that need to be addressed'." She further stated that "Bel-Wood needs someone who can manage issues on a day to day basis".

Too late. Bel-Wood had deteriorated enough for the consultants to tell us it would be less costly to build. That decision in my eyes is very much debatable.

I'm informed by our lead maintenance supervisor, Scott Bishop, that we have a preventative maintenance system running today.

4. Computer Services: My issue was that "the county should explore developing its own specialized computer staff rather than relying on an outside vendor which has cost taxpayers millions". We did go in-house and the system has been extremely successful.

5. Financial Services: My issue was "The county has an annual budget of nearly $80 million but has no financial officer. No business can operate efficiently without such a position. the county should immediately take steps to hire a financial officer". It took until 2008 to do so. The move appears to have been successful.

I've enjoyed most of my 8 1/2 years on the board. I have 18 month to go and am not running for reelection. I wouldn't run again even if I had the energy. I've enjoyed seeing much progress made by the board but we are now venturing down avenues I do not support. I agree with our financial support of Springdale Cemetery but that should some day come to an end. I thoroughly disagree with our soon-to-be ownership of the Peoria Riverfront Museum. I believe that most if not all county government, should not be in the nursing home business. That is a specialized business that is far more complicated than from the "old days" when it was truly a "safety net" for the poor. Now it will be a $41 million and possible more facility in direct competition with those who pay property taxes to support it.


Billy Dennis said...

I don't get it. If they can repair and renovate the current Bel-Wood for use as a jail, cannot they also repair and renovate it to use as a nursing home.

Merle Widmer said...


Same company that is doing the handling of all the bids for renovation is also handling all the bids for a new building. River City Construction I beleive now called CORE did both.

The county administrator and the board approved as the board was told it would be less confusing that way.