My Comments Before the Clay County Commission October 15, 2018

Posted: October 15, 2018 in Clay County Commission, Uncategorized

I stand to address the Commission today as a frustrated and tired taxpayer of this County. As you all know, I have been down at these meetings off and on since 2015. For a significant period of time, I was here every single week.

Today I stand before you to ask you to finally listen to the people of Clay County. I implore you to vote no on this excessive spending spree that, let’s face the truth, just Commissioners Ridgeway and Owen are proposing.

Commissioner Nolte has made it abundantly clear that he wants no part in this proposal, but as is usual with you two, instead of building consensus, you are just going to roll over him as if he doesn’t exist and he doesn’t represent the entire voice of the democratic body of this county.

One of my favorite thinkers is an investment analyst by the name of John Mauldin. Mauldin’s greatest strength is he’s capable of taking complex economic and investing ideas and boiling them down to simple things. One of my favorite sayings of his is the following:

Debt is either consumption denied or consumption brought forward

Admittedly, not all debt is bad. Sometimes it’s perfectly acceptable to bring consumption forward when it’s done responsibly and with a productive purpose.

You are proposing nearly $50 million dollars in principal payments and millions more in additional interest to be paid back for the next 20 years. You’re effectively bringing forward the future spending or denying the future spending of this County in the name of a bunch of projects that you’ve allowed no public discussion on, you’ve made no public appeal for, and you’ve made no compelling case that we even need.

Of all the projects on the list, the one I find most outrageous, and the one I’m going to take a minute to comment on is the new Annex. I would go as far to grant you the point that the existing Annex is a building that is past it’s time. It’s even arguable that we should do something about it. The problem I have is there has been no public discussion of what the actual needs are for this building.

You’re asking for $20 million for that one building!

How did you get to this figure?

Did you throw a dart at a dart board?

If you got to it with professional assistance, I want to know who the architect was and what piece of ground that you specifically have in mind. And then I want to know how come you think this is acceptable to do all this behind the back of the public?

The Annex is nothing more than a government building that serves a function. We don’t need a Taj Mahal to County government, after all we have enough of those things around this county in the form of overbuilt public high schools. At the end of the day, you could convert an old retail place to do everything that’s needed in that Annex and save current and future taxpayer’s a ton of money.

Now, I’m no expert, but I consume a significant amount of market and economic analysis on a weekly basis. The current recovery we’re inside of is the third longest in American history. There is more debt in the entire system than anytime in human history. Economic “experts” often disagree wildly, but It’s worth pointing out that the majority of reputable economists agree the Great Recession of 2008 was caused by too much debt.

You would be foolish to sit there and tell me that this economic cycle won’t end at some point. And when it does end and the tide goes out, we’re going to see who has been swimming without their bathing suits on. I’d venture to say the way things have been run the last 6 years around here, I bet we’ll want to cover our eyes just a little bit.

It’s irrelevant that we can meet the payment on these certificates of participation now. It’s responsible and prudent to be worried about the rainy day that will eventually come. Heck, your own ordinance even says it’s something to be mindful of. Just flip to page 12, the section titled “Changes in Economic, Demographic, and Market Conditions.” The payment on these certificates will have to be made. In an economic downturn, real property values will correct, and when they do, that means assessments will fall. It is not an unreasonable thing to worry about our taxes going up in the future because of your actions.  

Since the early 2000s, we have seen the County budget more than double. Assuming the rate of inflation since then and little changes we shouldn’t see the operational budget over $75 million. Somehow that budget is now over $100 million dollars, and I saw Commissioner Ridgeway on a TV news report this last week pointing out holes in ceilings in this very building.

If you can’t make basic building repairs on a $100 million dollar budget, you’re doing something really wrong.

So it begs the question, where the heck is all this money going? You stated on that same news report that “It’s time to do some major surgery.”

You know, I remember the last election, and I don’t remember either of you two saying anything about this desperate situation. If we’re having major surgery, you’d think someone would have wanted to inform the patient before we rehired the doctors. And let’s not ignore the fact that this isn’t all cracks in ceilings being addressed here, there’s a whole lot of new on this proposed project list.

You’ve done absolutely nothing to inform the people of any of these needs, so if you seem surprised that people are a little angry with you about this situation you’re completely to blame. A simple Internet search reveals that neither one of you even have active websites. Your Facebook pages have barely any information on them, and you don’t even have email newsletters. I can tell you from direct experience, it’s not that hard!

Commissioner Owen, I’m not making this up, I took a screenshot of it this weekend, your page on the County website literally says (to be finalized). You’ve been in office for almost two terms now. Apparently you both think it’s 1982, and the only way people get information is a newspaper.

If you think communication is too difficult to figure out, there’s a significant amount of people in this world that could help you figure it out. It’s really not that hard. I self-taught myself everything I’ve ever done online. Believe it or not there are a lot of books on using digital tools for communication. Since we pay you a salary, one that you felt justified in raising yourselves, you’re effectively an employee. Part of your job as that employee is to communicate to me, your constituent. I get a say-so in rehiring one of you every two years. Frankly, you’re terrible at your job.

To be honest, I fear it’s far worse than incompetence. Based upon your past actions, I suspect you have contempt for the people and don’t even feel you owe it to them to communicate.

Commissioners Ridgeway and Owen, I’ve been involved in politics in this county for almost 10 years now. Clay County has become known across the state for our dysfunction. I continually think to myself, it can’t get worse. Then you two make another decision.

If you genuinely think some of this stuff needs done, start figuring out a way to communicate the evidence for each and everyone of these items to us. Create a plan that Commissioner Nolte can get behind. Build support with the public. If you can’t do those basic things, things that show you respect the people and the hard earned money we are forced to give up to this county, then table this ordinance right now!

For the next two years, just set up there and do absolutely nothing more than the minimum. Collect your ridiculous salary and do us taxpayers all a favor, ride off into the sunset on your pension in two years.

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