What our taxes really pay for
Hidden away amid reams of puzzling paperwork about mill levies, tax lids, revenue-neutral rates, and the like are dozens of actual bills we taxpayers pay each month for various items government buys.
State law used to require cities and counties to publish a full accounting of each check they wrote so people whose taxes pay the bills would know where their money was going.
Political savants in the state legislature somehow managed to be persuaded by bureaucrats’ lobbyists that publishing the bills, technically called “warrants,” was a waste of time and money.
So, no longer do taxpayers get to see, for example, these bills for the month of September that Marion County commissioners paid on our behalf last week:
- Fifteen separate bills, totaling $571.55, for car washes — $393.04 of them for the sheriff’s department, $125.41 for the ambulance department, $12.60 for the county lake, and $33.33 for road and bridges, whose dusty thoroughfares probably accounted for a lot of the washes needed.
- Fourteen separate bills, totaling $1,526.40, for rent and operation of photocopiers even as we increasingly move to paperless offices.
- A total of $1,863.93 for medical items for inmates, including $184.26 for medication and $5.19 for vitamins. It seems not only do you get your One-A-Day while incarcerated; inmates also get what many workers don’t — dental coverage, to the tune of $803 last month.
- A total of $1,195 in rent, which in itself isn’t surprising but the variation in rates is St. Luke Hospital, which rents a large area to the health department and gets $160 a month. In September, it got that twice, plus a $25 late fee, because the August bill apparently was paid late. Still, that’s a lot less per month than the $250 Countryseed Feed got for a storage area and considerably less than the $600 Panzer Chiropractic got for its small office across from the courthouse, where planning and zoning now is encamped.
- A total of $346.05 for various snack items, including $242.98 for candy in the sheriff’s department, $32.25 for candy and snacks in the department on aging, $5 for snacks in planning and zoning, $52.62 in pop for employees, and $13.20 for bowls, spoons, forks, and plates in the clerk’s office. If you have the munchies, the courthouse appears to be the place to go. And that doesn’t include the $162.40 spent on a drinking water system for the sheriff’s dispatchers.
- A total of $1,766.85 for a month’s worth of uniforms — $1,513.97 for road and bridges and $252.88 for the transfer station.
- Payments that commissioners themselves made out on. Although they both abstained when it came time to pay the bills, Dave Crofoot managed to get $1,009.22 for Western Associates, and Jonah Gehring got $675.69 for Elcon Services. In fairness, as official county newspaper, we got $1,217.30, only slightly more than $928 paid to a competing paper.
- Oddities like road and bridges paying $21.99 for a computer mouse while emergency management paid $127.62 for one, which must have been a super-duper gaming mouse, perhaps to control a stealth drone or something else bought with COVID-19 grant money.
- A total of $5,694 for yet more radios, all paid for under the same federal COVID-19 grant, despite the fact that radios — like computer mice — don’t do a whole lot to stop COVID. Monitoring of unique ID numbers transmitted by each radio reveals that the county and its towns and fire districts already have at least 445 separate radios, all of which operate on the same frequencies and standards. That’s more than one radio for each 15 county residents between the ages of 18 and 65. Pretty soon, we’ll all have one, 10-4?
Every few years, a lone commissioner — usually a newly elected one — will question expenses like these. Many times — as might be the case with these expenses — there’s at least a plausible reason for them.
However, when it comes time to prepare budgets and tax levies, elected officials are continually reminded by outside accountants they hire that questioning what they regard as the nickels and dimes of government spending doesn’t add up.
Another bill paid last week was for the commissioners’ budget preparation consultant this year. That bill was for $23,665.
For the record, that’s 473,300 nickels — literally 2½ tons of nickels. Maybe county officials should consider paying the bill that way. Then again, with all the exercise needed to haul around payments, they’d probably need to buy more snacks.
— ERIC MEYER