Friday, January 22, 2010

Caterpillar Chiefs Letter Blasts Peoria County Board

All County Board members received a letter dated 1/20/10 from Jim Owens, Caterpillar Chairman and CEO, and from Douglas R. Oberhelman, Vice-Chairman and CEO Elect stating in part "Delays (by the county) have cost our community $5 million dollars in New Market Tax Credits". The letter in part further reads, "In the absence of a positive response from the Peoria County Board by February 12, 2010, Caterpillar doesn't believe this project can be viable. Failure to move forward in a responsive manner will result in Caterpillar withdrawing its funding for a PRM and termination of our plans to move forward with the Caterpillar Visitor Center." (The PRM Committee has already spent over $11 million and has just around $2 million left in cash. Another $11 million is also counted as "pledges". Pledges, which are just what they are, pledges. Seven years after this project started to make the news??)

My compatriots on the County Board voted themselves into this mess. County administration outright supported the project and were more than interested in becoming the owner of the building. I was the only "no" vote because I did not want the county, a last resort for major funding by the PRM Committee when the private sector and the Federal Government failed to meet their promises, to expand our bureaucracy to such a major responsibility. Now, the blame is put on this board and administration by Caterpillar and the RCG for not moving this project forward quickly. The CEO Roundtable; this group promised to raise $10 million dollars did most of this "raising" by getting a near bankrupt State of Illinois to contribute, "Senate bill 1181 plans to pump $5 million into the PRM project". (JS, October 31, 2009) Where is the $5 million right now? The State of Illinois can't even pay their bills. On 2/3/07, Museum Director, Jim Richerson, was quoted "I learned of the New Market Tax Credits 6 months ago". And now three years later its the county's fault?

Yes, three years later Cat executives are blaming the county for failure to act quickly enough to secure $5-6 million in these tax credits. The Peoria County Board wasn't even in the major fund-raising picture until late in 2008. Our administrator did lobby Springfield for the right to put a "public facility" tax referendum on the April 7, 2009 ballot. The referendum passed by a "yes" vote 15,305 to 14,895 voting "no", a very slim margin of 410 votes, hardly a mandate when you consider only 22%+ of the registered voters took interest enough to vote. No, not hardly a mandate. Especially with the PRM spending a reputed $640,000 on "educating" the public. Lobbying might have been a better term.

Back to the CEO Roundtable and their $10 million pledge has turned out be mainly more taxpayer dollars, not private dollars. And now Caterpillar is "demanding" the County make up this $5-6 million so called loss of New Market Tax Credits? That's what the Cat executives say in their letter, carboning in Dave Ransburg and Bud Grieves.

Overlooked by the Cat execs is the hard fact that the Endowment Fund is basically unfunded; $1.6 million as of March 2009. The PRM Committee, now the Museum Collaboration Committee, (MCG) promised the County $3 million with an assumed $5 million, PRM Committee banker member Doug Stewart said $14 million was needed. Erik Bush, Peoria County Financial Officer, figured $7 million was a minimum and $11 million desired to fund the endowment. And aren't endowments usually funded by philanthropists? Not New Market Tax Credits.

Good grief!

In the meantime, Caterpillar cut their planned investment in the Cat Visitor Center to $37 million and is now perhaps looking for an easy scapegoat for this underfunded mess?? Or maybe another reason that I will let my reader dwell on.

And then there is the unfinished Environmental Impact Study and the unfinished, now being rushed, "Peer Review" of some other engineering firm on the underground garage.

My guess is as good as anyone who has followed this "world class" project since 2002. I calculate that if Caterpillar drops out and the project is scrapped, the savings to the community over 20 years will be in the quarter billion dollar range. Perhaps more as this property valued by the City of Peoria to be worth $8-10 million has the long-range potential of being a property tax PAYER. Caterpillar can put the $37 million saved on the Visitors Center to work increasing stockholder value or re-hiring some of the hundreds of local employees laid off or fired in the past 18 months. Also, they could spend more money with their "hurting" local suppliers who have had to cut back as Caterpillar moves more business to other states.

At some point I will print the entire Caterpillar letter signed by Owens and Oberhelman on this site. In the meantime, if you want the real "facts" on the project, vist this site. There are a lot of details that need to be made public for the sake of "transparency" the local media is always complaining about.

I've been trying.


Jon said...

Thanks for the updates, Merle, even if it doesn't look pretty.

Anonymous said...

steve weibring

writes merle are u surprised they have not put a contract out on u. I mean the museum they invested so much lying and fabrication that the city will crush anyone who stand in their way to throw public money to their friends

who wants the museum and cat hardly employs anyone anymore

Anonymous said...

marlia carlia

writes its a scam the whole building was meant to be visitor's center and thought if put musuem on it the city would once again pay for everything

fire the police and get a musuem not build the block

that extra tax is slowing spending and making of jobs here, the tax is making everything so expensive

marlia you can throw me into the volcano by the ruthless carlia

Anonymous said...

Bob Bobjour

hey do remember their was this offical he investigating undercover wrong doing of medicare, he actually found something and suddenly he was a goner

and some of neighborhood wondered if was professional hit

he was a nice guy too

Merle Widmer said...


We never had them. The Marriott plan and Holiday City Center were also asking for NMTC. I will know more the middle of next week.

The delay has NEVER been the fault of Peoria County. I will blog about what transpired on a later more informative blog. I am not on the County Museum Committee, probably because of my opposition to county ownership.

These tax credits are borrowed money that have to eventually be paid back by taxpayers.