Monday, September 21, 2009

Let's Talk - Peoria County Board

This blog is in response to "Word on the Street" on the local page of the JS today.

Are we always transparent? In my opinion, not as much as we need to be. I showed our administrator a letter from Caterpillar dated April 9 or two days after the sales tax referendum passed (by approximately 400 votes out of approximately 30,000 cast), stating how Caterpillar planned to still support the museum but are not starting construction on the Visitor's Center in 2009 and that "planning for the project will be modified to reflect our current financial position and to temporarily suspend outright cash payments to the museum committee". Our administrator said he had not heard that from Caterpillar.

Sometime during the week of August 10, 2009, our administrator met with six, I believe, Caterpillar officials where Caterpillar outlined their position to him and confirmed in a letter to him dated August 21. While confirming other commitments to the museum, the letter said they were withholding $4 million pending the COMPLETION of the project funding. In this letter, they no longer called the museum a "regional" museum but called it the PRM.

All county board members did not receive a copy of this letter until 3 weeks later.

Our administrator was one of the prime pushers for the "facility" sales tax , appearing before legislative officials in Springfield to get a law passed to put the question on the ballot this April. Then he pushed to get the county to take ownership of the museum as the referendum did not mention the museum by name but was a tax that could be used for museums, recreational facilities, libraries, parks, etc. as long as construction was involved. The board concurred 17 to 1, mine being the only no vote cast. I did not then nor now want the County in the sticky business of owning a questioned museum. 14,000 no votes and 75% of the eligible voter (and future users) who could have voted but did not vote.

It is now 4 1/2 months since the referendum passed and only 3 1/2 months before merchants in Peoria County will start collecting a 1/4 per cent sales tax but as yet the museum fund raising appears to be from $11 million upward short raising the original amount of private dollars promised the County Board. Only when this money is raised will Caterpillar contribute another $4 million as per their letter.

Should the County Board vote to approve the contract drawn up by SA Kevin Lyon, and his paid outside counsel; before the money is raised and pledges are actually in hand, would be a serious mistake for a major part of the tax-paying community.
We have not been told who is going to be paying for this probably $400 an hour private counsel nor were some of us told we were going to need to hire a consultant from Caterpiilar because "we didn't have the time and expertise"

The PRM closed their books on 6/30/09. It will soon be three months and yet the full board has no information as to the financial stability of the group. I know that at least 2 million was already spent before 6/30/08 on consulting, engineering, travel, etc. and that over $550,000 in pledges had been withdrawn by 6/30/08.

Before anyone private or government, takes over ownership of any multi-million project, the full board must see an audited financial statement that is reasonably current. Would we believe an un-audited statement where loses incurred over the lifetime of this museum could run into high millions of tax-payer dollars?

And what about the museum fund raising drive for $500,000 promised by the museum be held each year if the county owned the museum? I believe some fail to realize that Lakeview Museum will be empty except for some planned museum storage which I believe the PPD who owns the building has not yet agreed on terms, if they agree to any. The status of this amazing DETAIL has not been told to the full board.

The full board has not been privy to certain museum proceeding. Nor the now $41 million new BelWood and a review of its history from 2002-2009. It's location has not been approved by the full board yet the administrator has come close or offered to buy property for its re-location.

The cost (our administrator estimated $10,000 which I don't believe will come close even though some mowing has been donated) of putting the Hanna City Correctional Center, now owned by the County, into some semblance of usage and for what? What will happen to the old BelWood that is in good enough shape to handle 258 clients as of last week. In good enough shape that its rumored the sheriff wishes to use it.

The administrator is looking into buying a building for records storage while admitting the county has no official records retention plan. And no money to buy it.

The county administration dealings are not as transparent as they were in the past. There are other lack of transparencies such as the reluctance to release information about why the State recently fined BelWood $10,100.00 for a number of violations.

Nor that Bel-Wood collected over $14 million dollars in property taxes in the last five years yet wasn't able to keep the building in proper repair. Why not when in 2008 it collected almost $3 million in property taxes?

Why weren't we notified that we were going to run a deficit in our 2009 budget while we were voting in May, 2009, on $200,000 of new signage inside the courthouse? Fortunately, nine of us killed the recommended purchase. And in June our administrator said as part of "our partnering for success" we should consider lending our Financial Officer to #150 when we were ourselves facing a budget crunch. Our Financial Officer questioned whether he would have the time and on his good judgment, we didn't.

Transparency, yes and no reason why not as we have the competence in the courthouse to let everyone interested know what is going on in the the county that affects taxpayer dollars.

1 comment:

Anne said...

Thanks Merle, for giving us the "rest of the story". Been feeling like a mushroom in regards to the museum workings....