Public money, public ownership


Issues arise that cause us to consider the appropriate use of local taxpayer dollars.

In general, we believe public dollars are best spent on projects created by, and supervised by, the governmental entities that collect the tax revenues, with elected officials held ultimately responsible for the process. When the revenue is spent on projects to benefit private business or non-profit organizations, the guidelines should be limiting, firm and clear.

In no case should tax revenue be used for the purchase or development of properties not owned by the taxpayers.

This week’s Community Development Corporation meeting provides an example of a situation concerning best use of taxpayer dollars.

The CDC has taken some big budget hits, notified it will not receive donations from town and county governments. The departure of the executive director leaves the organization with no full-time employee to raise funds for the group. When the CDC was formed, it was understood it would obtain its funding via investment and grants. The goal has been difficult to meet.

Mark Weiler, one of the CDC board members with the greatest amount of business experience and success, and one of the corporation’s major donors, resigned from the board and he and others have expressed frustration with the funding dilemma.

Mention was made at the meeting that ownership of the downtown City Market complex would fall to the CDC within a couple month’s time — a deal that was to have been completed some time ago.

Our reaction: Beware of getting what you want. With scant funds available, the CDC is currently in no position to take ownership of the building and complete the daunting task of developing the property.

Perhaps acquisition of the property would stimulate investment, perhaps grant money would be available. Perhaps not.

We suspect some members of the CDC board still think local government will ride to the rescue.

One board member said he spoke to all members of the town council and each assured him the town will channel funds to the CDC upon successful acquisition of the property.

If those promises were made, we wonder, first, why any member of the council would make the commitment prior to public discussion and, second, why any elected official entrusted with the responsibility of spending public funds would give them over to a brick and mortar facility not owned by the taxpayers? We hold out hope the councilors were considering funds for programs, once development of the facility is complete.

We believe government is justified in providing limited funds to aid non-profit programs that serve the public good. Among these we include education efforts outside the domain of the tax-supported school district. We agree with limited funding for select youth programs.

But, put money into development or maintenance of a facility? No.

Taxpayer dollars should be spent on publicly-owned infrastructure and public services for which elected officials can be held responsible. The idea of spending taxpayer dollars to develop or maintain a structure owned by any non-profit is unacceptable.

Should the CDC acquire the property, the funding to modify the property and bring it online must come from private investment and grant funds. The CDC should verify the availability of such funds before title is transferred.

If the deal falls apart, we believe town government should give the building’s owners a reasonable deadline for sale of the property to someone ready and able to bring it on line. If that option does not materialize, condemn the property, tear it down and put in a public park, with plenty of downtown parking.

Something for the public, owned by the public.

Karl Isberg