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!