Dear Editor, The Argus: Several weeks ago a news article appeared in your paper about a meeting held to discuss the renovation of the Rock Island County Jail. It went on to say no one from the general public showed up at the meeting to give an opinion. Further on the article quoted county officials as believing no public input amounted to an endorsement of their policies, thus concluding all is well with the upcoming multi-million dollar expenditure.
I'm writing this letter to suggest all is not well, but we members of the public have little if any power to bring about change regarding the spending of property tax dollars in Rock Island County. Public meetings not with standing, what the board decides is what we must pay, like it or not. Let me explain why showing up at these meetings is an exercise in futility, or shall we say, wag the dog.
The debate several years ago that brought our present jail was supposed to take care of our needs well into the next millennium. Such is not the case however, as we're now told there is a crisis with jail overcrowding. The truth is inmates have brought suit and they have won in court. Since the inmates are indigent, attorney's who represent them do so, not for altruistic, pro bono motives as one might think. Instead, they bill us, the taxpayers. Is there any surprise there? But wait, taking a case to court doesn't mean automatic victory. The result is we the taxpayers get socked with a double whammy. We pay the attorney's fees and subsequent judicial rulings result in mandating the expensive addition currently being decided. Guess what ... it's a done deal! Who do we talk to about this? The county board? The ACLU? How about our local and state bar associations? Hello ... is anyone there?
Meanwhile county officials are quoted in the press that next years tax levy may not go up. Let's clarify something that never gets explained by community leaders. Once and for all our taxes go up every single year with, or without, an increase in the levy. If you've lived in your home for several years, please go back and check your records. The property taxes never go down, or stay the same. Sadly, they go up as the assessed value of your property goes up. While it's nice to see a paper increase in your property value, the county collector is the real benificiary, as the annual tax amount you pay is greater. With or without a levy increase our county board always has more to spend!
For those of you who pay your property taxes as part of your mortgage payment, it's the same for you as well. Check your escrow. You'll see where your bank holds more for property taxes each year without fail.
We all expect to pay for quality schools and safe neighborhoods in which to live. The last time District 41 asked voters for more money, I was pleased to vote yes and be a part of a majority that progressivly supports the next generation. This jail business, however, has the all-too-familiar odor of insider politics so prevalent in Rock Island County. No wonder the public doesn't show up at meetings!
The legal and judicial community should be offering we taxpayers an apology instead of adding to our already excessive property tax burden. If you agree, I hope you'll make your feelings known.
Jeffrey H. Rice, Rock Island