Commentary by Fred Glynn, County Councilman, Hamilton County Council District 1
Now that the training center vote is behind us I would like to address a few things. The first issue at hand is the fire tower since it seems to be creating the most controversy. We funded the fire tower as a one-time gesture, nothing more. We felt it was important for the County to avoid becoming entangled in an open-ended long-term financial commitment. The proposal called for onsite county employees, the county to participate in ongoing operating expenses, as well as a whole new government agency to operate this training center. There has also been no explanation offered on where the other millions of dollars will come from to build the rest of the center in the future. We have been saying since January that we did not think the funding formula had the proper expenditure balance between the county and the cities and we did not want the county involved in an open ended ongoing financial commitment. None of us wanted that type of growth in government or long-term expenses, especially since the county is not responsible for fire protection. We even offered a compromise over the last few months where we would fund $1.5 million as long as the cities did a match. This would have been a one-time expenditure and kept us out of a long- term commitment. Every time we tried to negotiate an equitable win/win solution we were rebuffed and told this is non-negotiable.
We were also told that every city council in the county voted for the operating expenses in the amount of $40,000 and to move forward so we better comply. Of course the cities supported this. They were not being asked to contribute any of the up-front capital cost. All around our county tax money is being given away to private developers to fund “economic development” projects. This seems to be a much bigger priority for them than a public safety training center. That is fine if that is the priority of our city councils but that doesn’t change the priorities of county government.
The county is in the red every year and the majority of the rainy day fund we have has been earmarked for future projects by the Commissioners. They are asking for $10 million or more for a highway 37 project, $21 million to expand the courthouse, and millions more for other projects. We also have to figure out how to house the D felonies inmates in our county beginning next year. Up until now they were housed in state facilities but there is a new law that is shifting responsibility to the counties. This is an unfunded mandate from the state and is a big public safety priority on the county level. We had a meeting a few weeks ago where we were trying to find ways to give our county employees a 3% raise because they are being paid below the market. What kind of message would it send if we put millions into something that is not a county responsibility instead of paying our employees equitably? We have employees and county priorities that have to be funded so we have to be careful.
The fire tower was put forth because that is what every single person said was the biggest thing they needed. It may have been a mistake because the very people we were trying to help and others are trying to spin it and use it against us to score cheap political points. I have one individual who is respected by people from all political stripes who sent me this note.
“Fred, no good deed goes unpunished. They are not grateful for the tower but indignant. You keep that in mind the next time you are considering extending a ‘neighborly branch’.”
There is some validity to this statement. Some of the people who will benefit by having this tower are showing absolutely no respect for taxpayer dollars. I will definitely have to keep that in mind when making future decisions. My job is to scrutinize every spending proposal on behalf of taxpayers. This event will only strengthen my resolve.