First Issue of The Concerned Citizen hits the neighborhoods!

Are you a Concerned Citizen too? Do you want to team up with people in your neighborhood to hold your local government accountable? Complete the form below and you will be contacted by a leader from Iowans From Accountability. And, now you can text "CommonSense" to 99000 and get Text Alerts from IFA about local government issues and meetings. You can make an impact with very little effort!

Video: Holst Goes on Record at the EMA Hearing - SECC Misleading the Public

"Nothing that has happened so far gives me faith that you are watching over our tax dollars. When you have a uncapped levy, nothing will control it. There will always be enough money. You'll never be afraid to pass the budget, because there will always be the money. What's happened to date, makes me realize, the taxpayers have to watch over this. And that's why I am here today." - Diane Holst, Eldridge, Iowa

Davenport, Iowa - Feb 1, 2011 | Scott County Emergency Management Agency (EMA) Board Meeting and Public Hearing
Scott County Iowa EMA Board Meeting and Public Hearing 1 of 3 (11 mins)
Scott County Iowa EMA Board Meeting and Public Hearing 2 of 3 (11 mins)
Scott County Iowa EMA Board Meeting and Public Hearing 3 of 3 (3 mins)
Only two tax payers were present for nearly an $8M budget approval public hearing.
The man on the right, Ross Bergen, is the single employee of the Emergency Management Agency, and it is within and underneath this agency functionary that the SECC911 operational budget must finally and formally be approved today.

Ross' one man show operational budget is $126,500 and he has been around for 18 years and is a liaison with the nuclear plants and maintains a 40' mobil command unit purchased with a federal grant (and  is driven by two volunteers, one a former fire chief and the other a OTR driver).

Ross has been operating in loaned space in Bettendorf for four years and is now moving into the new SECC911 building as well.

Today's proceedings, chaired by Bettendorf Fire Chief Gerald Voelliger, included a presentation, public hearing on a $8.85M FY 11 budget amendment for SECC operations.

In addition to this "re-do" that cost tax payers an additional $1M , today's proceedings also included presentation and public hearing on the FY 12 EMA Budget. This EMA budget, typically $125K, is now nearly $8M, because of the requirement that SECC fall under EMA on paper, even though SECC911 is really operating under the purview and control of the County Administration.

This meeting is clearly treated as a formality of little consequence, as the SECC911 Board has already met and approved its $7M annual operating budget. It just NOW needs to ALSO be approved at the EMA's board process, with a public hearing as well.

Since February 2010, Diane Holst has been following the SECC911 saga very closely.

In addition to attending multiple meetings, investigating budget details and contracts, she compiled the 5 page history of the SECC911 project as reported in the Quad City Times (an official County newspaper of record) from May 2004 to June 2010.

Diane told me that despite the blizzard conditions brewing outside this February 1st, she was going to be present at this public hearing.  To her, this was a rare opportunity to be on the public record regarding the SECC911 project.

Recall that in 2007, when there was an unprecedented joint session of the Scott County Board, Davenport and Bettendorf City Councils to create this multi-jurisdictional new taxing entity, scrutiny and questioning of the project was highly discouraged.  According to the Quad City Times, Davenport Alderman Keith Meyers "tried to engage members of the Bettendorf council on the issue but was called out of order by county board chairman Jim Hancock. Davenport Mayer Ed Winborn agreed and called for the vote."

Bettendorf narrowly approved it 4-3. Strange to consider that one vote on the Bettendorf City Council could have altered this rubber stamp that was being ushered through. Maybe that's what Meyer was trying to do? Make an argument to the ones voting yes on the Bettendorf Council?

According to the same Times article, "Bettendorf Alderman Debe LaMar, 3rd Ward, voted against the measure because it was short on specifics.  LaMar was the only member of the Bettendorf council to speak against the measure during the meeting. After the meeting, she said she was concerned that the agreement doesn’t offer specifics on how calls will be handled, is worried that dispatchers will lose the relationships they share with police and fire departments by being employed in the same building and that the costs of the communication center are more than what has been estimated."

Since that vote in December 2007, the public has had two opportunities to be heard -- at the bonding hearings for the equipment and building. The record shows no one from the public was present at the public hearings. Back then, no concerned citizens had done the homework that Holst has done now.

And why would the public pay close attention? Consolidating the dispatching operations of three jurisdictions in a county made good sense and would increase safety and save money. Alderman LaMar was obviously wrong with her concerns, and Alderman Meyer was ruled out of order for trying to engage Bettendorf council people in the matter.

Fast forward two years, and when people started getting their property taxes and found out the increase was 90 cents, not 53 cents as it was sold to us… and what was sold as a 6000 sf facility was now a 27,000 sf fortress… that's when groups like Iowans For Accountability organized, and people like Diane Holst started leading by example and holding our public servants accountable.

In video 2 of 3 Diane Holst, from Eldridge, Iowa, addresses the non-elected EMA board and, citing newspaper accounts and quotes, and she asserts that this body and staff have been understating the true cost to the taxpayers... referring to smaller component amounts, with and without federal grant funds included, and never truly stating that all told the cost to taxpayers is $32M (nearly 8X more than what this supposed to save taxpayers when it was sold to them), over the same 20 years.

SECC911 director, Brian Hitchcock, when asked budgeting and reporting questions during the public hearing, by Diane Holst, has to defer to the county administrator, who is not at this meeting, for each question.

Diane Holst: Why is the equipment bond payment for the year, the $750,000 isn't in the actual budget number? It includes the building but not the equipment."
Brian Hitchcock, SECC Director: "I believe that Dee would probably be a better answer to that. She would know how to answer that more than better than I am. For some reason they had Scott County pay back that loan. I am not sure how."
"So it's really closer to $8M when you add the $750,000," Holst states.

"I'm more the technical and operational aspect of it," says Brian.

Hitchcock was left to hang out there on his own, no board member, including Jim Hancock, Chairman of the Scott County board when SECC was formed in 2007, refuted Holst's assertion that the true costs of SECC were being misstated.

"As I hear some of these statements thrown around, I get concerned about the facts. We hear about 1400 radios getting purchased 'with a grant'. That's not quite true. Yes, $2.7 M were, but $4.4 were not and that came out of us. And little statements like that concern me and I think they are misleading to the public.

And when you make a statement that to build and equip the building is $7.3 M, well that's not really correct. $7.3M was the building. To equip it was another $3.38M."

Hitchcock takes issue with that assertion, that the $3.8 was "not in the original cost of the building". He eventually states, "I think that were talking maybe furniture or something like that."

Holst states her concerns about going into debt for equipment over a 20 year period for equipment that has a life span, in various reports, from 3 to 10 years, and service contracts are in the bonds that will expire within the 20 year bonding period that will have to be renewed and incur further debt. When this equipment's done we're gonna be refinancing equipment."

"Choose your words wisely when you tell the public when this grand opening happens, what it really costs, and that is $26 million.

Once the discussions about how the 29C was going to be put into place (to create this) the discussions about how much this was going to save us, were gone. Never heard it again. All the events being discussed were how much was going to be bonded to pay for it.

Why am I here? Nothing that has happened so far gives me faith that you are watching over our tax dollars. When you have a uncapped levy, nothing will control it. There will always be enough money. You'll never be afraid to pass the budget, because there will always be the money. What's happened to date, makes me realize, the taxpayers have to watch over this. And that's why I am here today."

Additional Commentary & Analysis from River Cities' Reader:
New SECC Means Emergency for Scott County Taxpayers 

No comments:

Post a Comment