Last Tuesday, the majority of the Commissioners voted to add another 5 million dollars to the Justice Center. Only Bill Anderson and I voted against it. http://www.t-g.com/story/2451474.html
The way this County goes about handling it’s business is sometimes very frustrating. Rules of procedure are constantly avoided and ignored. Decisions involving millions of tax payer dollars are passed without any meaningful discussion during the Commission meeting, which leads people to assume these decisions must have been discussed and made behind closed doors, or over the phone. It almost seems as if, as one fellow told me, there is a meeting before the meeting. But that can’t be.. we have The Open Meetings law to prevent that. (wink & nod)
This time it started on Sept 26 during the Financial Management Committee meeting when under “Other Business” Commissioner Tony Barrett (as if on cue) stood and announced he was in a meeting in the Mayors office and "We found out that $29.6 million is not going to be a functional building,” the Finance Director quickly passed out a spreadsheet to show how to finance the expansion, so obviously a lot of talk had occurred prior to the Finance meeting. I believe the way this issue came to the Finance Committee for a vote violates the rules & procedures of the Commission. In January of this year, the County Commission unanimously voted to accept a revised version of its rules. Rule 6; Sec. C states,” The Standing Committee Chairperson should notify the County Mayor of the MAJOR matters (emphasis added) to be placed on the monthly agenda for that committee.” This issue of adding 5 million dollars to the project should certainly be considered a MAJOR item, and it was not properly placed on the Finance Committee agenda with it’s own line item (see the agenda below), so neither the members of the Finance Committee, other Commissioners, nor the public was made aware of the issue of adding the 5 million dollars prior to it being presented at finance. With no advanced notice, no-one had an opportunity to study the issue and be prepared for a meaningful discussion. It did not go through any other committee (other than Finance) for discussion or debate prior to being passed to the full Commission.
During the County Commission meeting and just as the agenda item for the 5 million dollars was to be discussed, we were handed a folder of items to review. Commissioner Farrar pointed out and rightfully complained that it was a lot of info that we were just given and obviously we had no time to read it before we were expected to vote on it. Had this issue been properly sent through the Committees, or even sent to the Commissioners with the agenda, ample time would have been available to read it before voting to spend another 5 million dollars.
I also find it incredible that just 3 months ago we could not come up with $320,000 to avoid another property tax increase and now we can find over twice that amount. Don’t forget that in August a special meeting was called to add $185,000 to the BoE budget. That item didn’t go through a single committee prior to Finance. I know we are talking about different funds, the new employees was out of the General Budget (101) and the Justice Center is out of Debt Service (151) , and the BoE is (141), but I feel the point is still valid that we did not have to raise taxes in June.
There was no mention of this excess money in the debt service fund when Cascade needed 4.5 million to start construction and the Board of Education met with the Finance Committee in August. If we, the Commissioners, knew money was available, may have been able avoid taking money from the school systems operating budget and also avoided borrowing more money than was needed to complete Cascade. But, not funding the Cascade construction through the BoE, as the BoE wanted, would have not allowed them to hi-jack the Cascade budget in order to finance a new Vo-Tech building at SCHS in that 9.9 million dollar finance package. That package was also not ever discussed by the Commissioners before the Finance meeting that night…
Do not for a minute believe that this is the last time the Justice Center will need millions more tax dollars. Unknown costs are still out there…
We have no idea what it is going to cost to improve the justice center building site and bring in utilities. The site plan has not yet been engineered and/or drawn. Just how much money will it take to build a road, extend water, sewer, gas and telecommunications. How much to build parking lots, water detention ponds and storm drains. How about landscaping and signage?
We have no idea what it is going to cost to furnish and equip the building. When I brought this item up Tuesday night, Mr. Daniel answered we would use the existing equipment. No way will that be possible. All the electronic surveillance and monitoring for the jail and courtrooms will be brand new. You can’t remove it from the old jail and use it, because the old and new jails will have to be fully functional on moving day. The offices may use some old desks, but I am willing to bet that the same people that said we can’t make do with a barely adequate building will say we can’t put old furnishings in a new building. A few million more dollars here.. just wait and see.
We have no idea what it is going to cost to hire the additional correctional staff. Again, I know this money involves separate Funds (general budget and not debt service) but it all comes from the citizens of this County. Even though I and several other Commissioners have asked repeatedly about a Staffing Analysis, no-one has even offered a guess. I bet it will be at least double the number of correction officers that we currently have. Lets just say 20… at an estimated $45,000 per year (includes benefits, etc..) …$900,000 a year, probably more.
I know I have greatly upset nearly everyone who works at the courthouse by suggesting we stay within the budget, but rather than commit “excess” money now, shouldn’t we wait till all the costs are known and then decide where it should be allocated?