Public hearings are required by law; however, they no longer seem to serve the purpose of allowing citizens and taxpayers to express their opinion about an upcoming project before the final decision is made. There are two (2) reasons why this is no longer true. One, the citizens have no idea of the details of any project before the public hearing takes place, and two, the project is already a done deal before the public hearing.
In particular, the recent hearing on the USDA loan/grant of $9.5M applied for by the City of Monticello could hardly be called a public hearing. The mayor and three (3) of the city council members listened to the consultant for 20 minutes of a 30 minute hearing. It was obvious they could care less about what any citizen had to say because they refused to allot time for everyone that wanted to speak. Four citizens were allowed to speak approximately two (2) minutes each. The council did not answer any questions, and no responses to written questions (the Mayor said should be submitted) have been received.
Presently, the plan is to make sure the utility rates are set so the City’s utility revenues will cover expenses plus the $201,057 annual payment to USDA for the next 40 years. The consultant projected negligible population increases during that time. One of the citizens that did get to speak questioned the need for this $9.5M “water” project if there was no growth expected and the current usage would not increase.
The consultant’s report (obtained through open records) gives extremely unlikely “alternatives” to the project, such as drawing water out of Jackson Lake–something that JCWSA and others were told 15 years ago would never happen. Using highly unlikely alternatives as comparisons made the $9.5M Mines Lake project the “cheapest” and “best” according to the report submitted to USDA.
It is time to allow citizens to vote on large amounts of debt that will encumber them for decades. At a very minimum, officials should have a real public hearing AFTER full disclosure of the details and then decide AFTER the public hearing what to do, and if anything should be modified or questioned.
There always seems to be a way for taxpayer investment to fund lots of private profit….on land deals, surveys, consultants, etc. Of the $9.5M requested, $1.05M is for “contingency” and $337,000 is for “contractor markup.” This is approximately $1.4M or 15% of the project cost to help selected contractors make more money….uh, for cost overruns. Another $580,612 is listed for engineering design and construction management.
As it is now, as long as taxpayers foot the bill, nothing seems to be too expensive or too outrageous for our public officials to support. Which private firms and individuals will this project enrich with taxpayer’s money?
Citizens, be informed and stay informed! Only by being informed, can the citizens understand what is being done and talked about, and then press our officials to make good decisions for everyone in Jasper County. That is our goal with the Taxdogs blog.