Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Chase: Fiscal Restraint in Lake County, No Fooling!

By Marc Chase in the Northwest Indiana Times:

Who knew Lake County government could exercise a measure of fiscal restraint?
Last May seems like a long time ago in some collective memories. In fact, my very first column in The Times appeared May 14 and took the Lake County Council to task for borrowing $15 million — some of which was for operational expenses — before the county had any firm plan for repaying the money.
Unsurprisingly, most of that money is now spent. But surprisingly — shockingly, even — $1.8 million remained in county coffers up until last week.
And refreshingly, Republican County Councilman Eldon Strong, who detested the idea of borrowing the money to begin with, made a motion last week to pay that money back to the bank rather than flushing it down the endless drain of waste that is county government.
Strong's motion received — also shockingly — unanimous support from the council. So nearly $2 million of that pesky $15 million in needlessly borrowed money will now be retired debt.
I realize Strong's motion marked a small fiscal victory. So does he.
"I wish we could pay back the whole $15 million," he told me late last week. "But $1.8 million was left, and it was common-sense government to pay it back."
Common-sense government would have been avoiding borrowing the $15 million — as a precursor to also saddling taxpayers with a new 1.5 percent local option income tax — but Strong and the rest of the council deserve praise for what they did.
Common sense hasn't exactly characterized the patronage-bloated, junket-rich, tax-happy Lake County Council in recent years. So some applause is in order.
Though I do wonder if the rest of the council — other than Strong and fellow GOP Councilman Dan Dernulc, who also has been critical of borrowing and taxing — really understood what they were doing in voting to repay the money. Were they awake, alert and oriented?
Never mind that borrowing the $15 million — to bridge funding deficiencies for roads, health insurance, drainage projects and other line items — was in and of itself irresponsible.
Never mind the council borrowed this money without a clue as to how it was to be repaid.
We have to celebrate baby-step-sized fiscal victories in the land of Lake, and this fits the bill.