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Public Safety Sales Tax is not a slush fund, Mr. Maladecki!

In Friday’s letter to the editor entitled, “Define public safety,” Mr. Tom Maladecki of Rockford accused Winnebago County of using the 1-cent Public Safety Sales Tax (PSST) as a slush fund!

The first paragraph incorrectly stated, “My recollection was that the 1 cent tax was proposed only for building a new county jail. To me it seemed the tax should go away when the initial cost of the jail was covered.”

Admitting his initial premise was incorrect, the letter then accuses the county of using the (PSST) as a slush fund “to pay for anything remotely connected with the ‘public safety.’ ”

Not only are his recollections inaccurate but his accusations are incorrect. The letter also suggested that the initial PSST referendum possibly used a magician’s trick to distract the voters from the one-cent sales tax’s true purpose. No sleight of hand here, Mr Maladecki. No pretty girl with a fluttering cape to hide anything from the audience.

In August of 2002, the “One Penny for Public Safety – Vote Yes” referendum campaign literature distinctly displayed that the tax was for a three-part comprehensive plan to address public safety in Winnebago County.

The literature clearly placed before the voters that not only would the PSST be used to retire the construction bonds for the jail in 2024, but would also be used to staff the facility with correction officers, new judges, assistant State’s Attorneys, Public Defenders, Circuit Clerk personnel, and probation officers to operate the court in a more efficient manner.

Third, the alternatives to incarceration and rehabilitation programs was to use the tax to expand pretrial services, drug court probation, GED programs at the Justice Center and employment readiness programs, which were initially $2.7M out of the $28M dollars collected from the sales tax.

These programs were approved by the county board after the organizations had submitted budgets to the Winnebago County Crime and Public Safety Commission, which were then approved by the Winnebago County Finance Committee and ultimately the county board as a whole. There’s plenty of structure there, Mr. Maladecki.

Those alternative programs have since been cut by half in the last few years to include only those programs that have demonstrated results in reducing recidivism. The PSST is not a slush fund, as you so blithely asserted in your letter, Mr. Maladecki.

It is one of the most closely watched funds expended by the county.

Even before jail construction was completed, the county paid approximately $38M of the construction costs from the accumulating PSST funds, saving the taxpayers of Winnebago County $60M dollars in principal and interest that had originally been estimated in order to retire the 20-year bonds.

This year, the PSST revenue is projected to be slightly less than $28M with personnel expenditure estimated to be $15,269,742 Supplies and Services at $4,605,724 and debt service to repay the bonds at $8,269,000.

Maybe you should attend a Winnebago County Finance meeting once in awhile, where discussions and the structure of the PSST are discussed in budget reports or you might have read the Rockford Register Star’s special report published between June 8 and June 10, 2007, which exhaustively covered how the PSST was being spent before making accusations about facts you obviously know little about!

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13 Comments

  1. JRM_CommonSense

    Well done Ted.

  2. The misdirection ploy used to promote this tax, as pointed out by Ted’s post, was promoting the proposed sales tax increase as “One penny for Public Safety”,while omitting the fact that passing the proposal would mean a 14% sales tax increase. Now who wants to admit that they can’t afford a penny to make the county safer? But tell someone that a tax is going to increase 14% and they may re-think their position. No where in the campaign literature was the fact pointed out that the sales tax is the most regressive of all taxes which means it hits the lower income earners the hardest. No where in the literature was it explained that the Sheriff was going to get an office fit for a Fortune 500 CEO. (I can only imagine what the multiple Judge’s digs look like.)
    I have some questions hopefully someone can answer; what has this increase in the sales tax cost the average Winnebago Co. family of 4 and what public safety benefits have come of it?
    Why is it that when the State or Feds talk about a tax increase or even letting a tax cut expire that “they don’t have a revenue problem, they have a spending problem”, but when the local downtown politicos want to raise and raise they are justified and have the taxpayers interest at heart?

  3. Adam Faber

    Well said, Ted. As you so aptly point out, a little research would have cleared up Mr. Maladecki’s misconceptions. I hope that you’ll take your own advice as a little research on your part would prevent you from blithely writing completely incorrect pieces about the U.S. Forest Service’s firefighting efforts, the possibility of political candidates using American-made bus shells, PETA’s funding sources, etc. It rings hollow when you pontificate that others ought to research a topic prior to writing about it when you are not willing to do the same for your own column.

  4. Carol Foster

    Thank you Adam for your comment and nuget of truth concerning much of what Ted has written todate.
    Living in that glass house, he certainly throws lots of stones with so many broken windows to fix, this upcoming winter could be a real problem for him.

  5. truth hurts

    I am sorry ted but Mr. Tom Maladecki of Rockford is correct and you are (I hate to say this) justtifying political lying though misdirection, omission, and selective advertising.

    When this tax was proposed it was advertised in media, news articles, the RRSTAR and speeches as funding for the building and maintaining of the (then) new winnebago county jail. This was announced, renforced, and touted in glowing terms. It was also loudly told that when the jail was paid off the tax would be reduced and/or eliminated.

    The fact of it also being used also for “public safety” was only (at best) in small print or gone over quickly with no follow up much like the small print/words in any drug/product/service commercial. Much like talking loudly about the benifits and wispering into your hand about the details.

    Not to mention (as been PROVEN TRUE) the criteria for “public safety” is so loose that it is best called a joke. In fact every time they want to cut this program or that and put the money to the jail itself we have wailing and knashing of teeth like the world will come to an end if X program was cut.

    In fact I remember a RRSTAR article that appeared about 2 years after the tax that showed (this was before the economy went south) that not only told that more money came in that expected, but the figures it showed (my memory may be a little off) that if all the amount was applied almost half of the cost of the building of the jail would have been paid off.

    I think the continued travesty is that the jail is short manpower due to “lack of budget” but the money from this tax is going to the other “public safety” issues.

    I find it sad ted that when com-ed did this exact same tactic of touting in loud terms the benifits of upgrading to the “smart grid” and downplayed the rate increase you (justifiably) were screaming from the rafters at this political word game. But now when its the county jail you seem to say “well they did tell you about it” and ignore the fact they are spending the money on anything REMOTELY/LOOSELY called “public safety”.

    In conclusion if you CAN’T PAY OFF THE DEBT AND MAINTAIN SAFE STAFFING LEVELS in the jail IT IS IRRESPONCIBLE to be paying for ANY OTHER PROGRAMS no matter how much supposed good they are.

    If they have not reduced the need for corrections officers and jail space IN ANY MAJOR WAY then put the money where IT WAS TOLD IT WOULD GO.

  6. Truth hurts said it all. Call it what you want, it is being used as a SLUSH fund!

  7. What was the revenue source for the personnel and supplies and services expenditures before the PSST was established? Has that spigot been turned off or just diverted to other “spending problems” the county leaders choose to address?

  8. Personally, I would have rather seen the County Board save it’s citizens millions of dollars, by following Arizona Sheriff Arpaio’s cost-cutting measures for housing , feeding, and clothing prisoners (See: http://www.mcso.org/), instead of building what I call the “Taj-MaJail”.

    Interestingly, this “state-of-the -art”, $100+ million facility was SO secure, that some defendants were able to run from the courtroom, and exit the building.

    • Ted Biondo

      SNuss, the jail was built because a federal judge says you are overcrowding the prisoners. It was P. Michael Mahoney the same federal judge in the RSD205 lawsuit. The county had to build a jail to house everyone with no over crowding. The jail population has almost doubled in the last 10 years. Build it and they will come, I guess.

      Mahoney could have forced the county to house prisoners in other jails at the county taxpayer’s expense – a much more expensive way to house prisoners to the county. I don’t know why Federal Magistrate Mahoney has it in for this area, but this may have been the least costly way to satisfy his court order. He had already costs the area $250M plus in the school lawsuit.

      Go on a tour of the place if you think it is a Taj-MaJail. It’s steel bunks bolted into the side of the walls, with a mattress, a sink, toilet and wired-in pods at the end of each corridor to exercise. I wouldn’t want to be there. There are also 17th circuit courtrooms, judges, etc. all because of the federal court order. If this jail gets over crowded again, more pods will need to be built at more expense – another 150 to 200 and the county will be spending more!

  9. Ted, it was priced like a Taj-MaJail. Fences and tents are a lot cheaper. We also have a lot of vacant industrial buildings that could also be adapted for housing minimum security inmates, if tents seem too “cruel and unusual” for your taste.

    But please check out the mcso.org site, and see what Sheriff Joe is actually doing down there-you might be surprised. He runs an accredited high school for inmates, and a no-kill animal shelter, among his many programs.

    BTW, is it correct that a lot of the population growth is due to incarcerated suspects awaiting trial, due to court backlogs, rather than just housing more convicted criminals?

    If so, we should have night and weekend court sessions to relieve the backlog, instead of building more storage facilities.

  10. truth hurts

    Ted I did not want to go farther on the jail and its being a cost overrun/patronage to contributers but since SNus brought it up and you responded I will take up the cause.

    You are correct the overcrowding caused a lawsuit resulting in a ruling from the court to deal with the overcrowding. Yes jail population (due to increase in crime) required more space. Yes out of county housing would have been expensive long term solution.

    But from DAY ONE it has been a boondoggle of screwing the taxpayer by not being financially responcible.

    Two UNDENIABLE FACTS show the city/county leaders had been financially irresponcible (at best) or pandering to “their buddies/contributers” at worst.

    1. They DEMANDED IT BE DOWNTOWN instead of buying land on edge of town (I believe it was considered by the old drive in on the west side). The RRSTAR article stated the cost was (if my memory serves) for the non downtown land was half to 1/3 the cost. Not to mention the fact no private property would needed to be bought and other expensive changes needed that a fresh start at new land would have offered. Yes utilites would have to been run, but when the LAND ALONE is 1/2 the cost (minimum) then you STILL SAVE MONEY.

    If that was not bad enough, the next one was just plain WRONG WRONG WRONG.

    2. They hired an Architectural firm to come up with THREE ATHESTICALLY PLEASING DESIGNS FOR THE JAIL, at a 6 DIGIT COST. Then CHOOSE THE MOST PLEASING ONE.

    This is A JAIL, NOT A TOURIST DESTINATION. I don’t care if it is ugly gray brick with barb wire exterior. You are not to WANT TO COME AND SEE THE PRETTY JAIL.

    How much (like the land) extra did it cost the taxpayer to make it outside look pretty?

    In other words the safety of the community and making sure the bad people stay safely locked up, and enough officers for safety of staff and prisoners seem to be priority two.

    Now add to this the previously discussed outright fleecing of taxpayers by the “public safety clause” and you see why us THE TAXPAYERS OF WINNEBAGO COUNTY ARE MAD.

    I hate to ask this since overall I am a supporter of Ted but what is going on here with you?

    First the continued justification of the property tax adjustments and now this jail “public safety” justification (In my opinion IDENTICAL TO THE ADJUSTMENT CLAUSE).

    As I stated before when com-ed pulled their baloney you were screaming from the rafters.
    But on these issues where they are similar if not identical to com-ed “smart grid” you have ZERO condemnation of it?

  11. Ted, about your “Doublespeak” column: WELL DONE!

  12. I agree wholeheartedly! “Doublespeak” from elected officials all started with the BarryHusseinMessiah administration. ……………….OMG.

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