Thursday, November 02, 2006

No, It's Not About the Courthouse

I'll admit, it was the first thing out of my mouth, too.

"You mean they're building that brand new building but we can't afford to pay people to work there?"

I never liked the idea of moving the courthouse. The new jail bugs me, but the old jail (our current 4-H office) was obviously too small, cut up like a mouse maze, and falling apart.

It is true that we helped balance the county budget for the last four years by drawing on the interest on the building fund, and that we could have put off this vote for a year or two more if we had put off building. But we would have built anyway, eventually, and the building fund would have been depleted no matter where we built. (Check out this Enterprise article from 2001 , predicting a one mill tax increase if the courthouse stayed in Leland)

It is true that we are paying off the bond that financed the new jail, in the amonut of $4.5 million per year. This is a new expense, and part of the budget shortfall. It made sense to finance the jail with a bond because interest rates were so low at that point. But (according to Bob Hawley) the cost of running the new jail, even with its empty beds, is about the same as running the old one when you factor in the money we used to spent to house overflow prisoners in Benzie County.

People who tell me that they hope the millage fails so that we have to stop construction on the new courthouse need to get a grip on reality. We had a referendum on whether to move the county seat and the majority of voters agreed to move. The County Commissioners cannot undo that vote.

"If we stopped construction tomorrow......", as various people have suggested, we would still need to do something about our aging and cramped courthouse. We would still lack revenues to cover our expenses. We would still need the operations millage.

I was interviewed by the Record-Eagle yesterday, in the middle of baking a pumpkin pie. We talked for about 15 minutes with the end result being a two sentence quote. I'm relieved that I wasn't quoted out of context, but somewhat disappointed that there was not more interest in the underlying tax policies. Sometimes I feel like a geek.

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