Read My Lips

At the May 19 BoC Meeting, a cavalcade of repetitive Elephant Party people showed up for pubic – errr, I mean public comment. Each person got up and claimed that they were suffering from financial hardships. Some of these poor people live in measly, sad million dollar homes on the lake. Other people are poor farmers that own millions of dollars worth of property. This poor lot shuffled to the microphone and each spouted the same talking points:

The County has too much money. The people’s taxes are too high. Here’s how much money I just spent filling up my gas tank.

One public commenter even brought back a trope from 1988: “Read my lips: no new taxes”. This was a quote from President George H. W. Bush. He made this promise right before raising taxes. Because, politicians say things.

On the agenda for the meeting was the millage rates. Commissioners discussed major projects upcoming, including the fact that parts of the County building’s facade could fall off at any time.

Politician Jarris Rubingh knew this was his moment, and he stepped up. He was loud, he was full of histrionics, interrupted other commissioners, and repeated cliche talking points meant to impress the Elephant Party People, clutching their premium gas receipts. Impress them, he did.

For a while now, Politician Jarris Rubingh has been claiming that the Board of Commissioners is attempting to raise taxes via millages. This is not true. Instead, the Board is actually trying to renew the millages that were already approved by the voters. But, a politician never lets the truth get in the way.

He claimed that the county has squirreled away $60 million in various bank accounts. This is absolutely not true. He claims that the proposed millage rate represents a new raise in taxation. This is absolutely not true.

“It’s about time, we put the people first!” the Politician hollered at his fellow commissioners. “People are hurting. We’ve got to have a little compassion!”

Compassion for whom? His proposed millage reduction would de-fund services across the County. It would reduce property taxes by a paltry sum for single-property owners. It would be a significant boost for large land owners. So, is he begging the Board to have compassion on rich people?

Watrous sighting. Let’s just quote him:

“People need roofs on their houses, too. A dollar spent in the private sector is better than a dollar spent by the government.”

And everybody clapped.

At this point, Rubingh and Watrous started just parroting each other in a game of talking point ping pong.

Rubingh: “When is it going to stop $7 a gallon? 8? 10?”

Watrous: “When it hits $10 a gallon gas, this country is gonna be upside down.”

Because, politicians say things.

Commissioner Lavanway asked the financial director to explain basic accounting principles. The financial director explained the differences in government finances and private finances. He explained that there would be certain times that the fund balance looked large because the arrival of tax payments come at certain times of year, and that is all the money the county has for operations. So, if you want to cherry pick a particularly flush time of year, you are not seeing the real picture.

Additionally, there are huge expenditures that are unavoidable and around the corner:

  • $8 Million – Unfunded pension liability.
  • $5-9 Million – Upcoming building maintenance costs.
  • $2 Million – Upcoming anticipated expenses in other funds.

Eliminating revenue at this time would be insane. Commissioner Boettcher put it succinctly: “I’m not trying to cut taxes, I’m trying to pay the bills!”

The finance director also pointed out that there is a lot of demand for services in particular areas (like Commission on Aging), and there is plenty of money, but they have been overly frugal. They could spend more money and provide more services.

Take tax payer money, and provide services? What a WILD idea!

We have explained in the past, millage cuts are insignificant to average citizens, but create a heavy burden for the county. Politician Rubingh’s statement that he is helping people by lowering millages is completely insincere.

Millage cuts benefit rich people and large land owners. Non-homestead property owners will benefit. Those are the rich jerks from Chicago that only come up to their cabin on Torch Lake twice a year. Politician Jarris Rubingh’s family happens to own massive amounts of property in the Ellsworth and Central Lake areas. Thus, his family will benefit greatly from even small reductions.

The average homeowners, on the other hand, will save about half a tank of gas per year. The last reduction Rubingh pushed through, saved average homeowners about $40 a year. Whoopty doo! Yet, he rails on about compassion?

He is SO full of shit, and all you need is a calculator to prove it.

Rubingh’s motion for a large millage cut failed 3-6. Rubingh, Watrous, and Marcus voted for the drastic cut.

Lavanway then made a motion for a less drastic cut to several millages. This proposal would save average taxpayers a few cents, but it would cut specific funds significantly. For instance, Commission on Aging funding would be cut by $200,000.

Politician Jarris Rubingh once again insisted that the proposal was still a tax hike, but he could live with it. What the hell is he talking about?

The Board approved Lavanway’s proposal. This was a compromise position. But, the purpose of this was flatly stated To be able to say that taxes were cut. It was an insignificant political move. There were a lot of nonsense statements made like we need to “tighten our belts,” and “live within our means”.

Because, politicians say things.

Blah, blah, blah. Meaningless political chatter. Let’s clear this up.

The County sometimes appears to have huge cash reserves, but that is illusory when understood in context. There are several departments that have excess funds sitting around, but that is a reflection of the Board’s cheapness and full-fledged reticence to spend money on anything. Also, staffing is a huge challenge. Some departments have money sitting around because they can’t fill open positions.

All this is easy to figure out. But, the politicians on the Board wasted an entire meeting trying to figure out a way to say they cut taxes, but also keep the bills paid and services going. That is opposite of what the citizenry wants and needs. The taxpayers of this county APPROVED these millages. They expected a return on investment in the form of services. Those desired services are held up by the Board that is constantly trying to cut the voter-approved funding.

Lips were moving and politicians were saying things. But, unless you are rich, they did nothing to help you.

This blog is getting repetitive.

1 Comment

  1. There will never be enough money for all the needs we have in our world, at all government levels. We could add gazillions, and there would still be more needs.

    There has to be a balancing act. While I understand the thought that “benefits cuts” hurt some of the people who utilize multiple county services, tax cuts definitely do benefit most of us at all levels.

    Anyone who remembers the housing department fiasco of five years ago knows that the county is capable of wasting and throwing away alot of taxpayers’ hard-earned money while HURTING the little guy. And surely you all remember the fiasco of the county buying the bank building without a plan for maintenance, or anything else.

    However, I agree that cutting taxes without a plan and without looking at the big picture is not the answer. And not maintaining facilities is not the answer.

    I challenge all the new Commissioners to commit to some thoughtful planning on balancing our services with the very real fact that we are taxed way too much in this country at all levels.
    For example, we do NOT need a huge new jail big enough to take in prisoners from other counties, I Studies everywhere show that big new jails create a definite increase in people being arrested.

    The board also approved a work at home plan during the pandemic. Why not get creative and offer more online services for the county residents, so more can work at home and there is less need to come into a huge building?

    Last but not least, the county recently had a consultant report that the primary space needs in the county were for storage. Please consider building inexpensive storage units versus building all new expensive buildings just because we need storage.


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