By Paul Gorski
I’ve written two articles, “Better health care and education will spur job growth, part one” (Sept. 5-11 issue) and “Better health care and education will spur job growth, part two” (Sept. 12-18 issue), that focused on better uses for the tipping fee money the county receives from the Winnebago landfill. I specifically recommend we use some of these funds on education and public health, with a heavy dose of coordination between these expenditures and economic development.
I had one call and an online reader who didn’t support that plan. Online reader “John” commented “what a load of crap” and suggested this plan reflected my “socialist attitude.” On the contrary, my plan follows standard, conservative business principles. I’m simply suggesting we invest in programs 1) that have a measurable return on investment (ROI), and 2) are consistent with the roles of counties in local government.
The county now spends the tipping fee money on a list of non-economic development-related programs. Granted, the dollars go to some good local groups, but the tie-in to economic development simply is not there. Where’s the ROI, and how does it relate to what services counties are supposed to provide?
Counties are responsible for the management of certain public services and coordinating infrastructure development and maintenance. I can’t find any state law that reads “counties should stockpile money collected from residents’ garbage fees and give it to a random list of recipients every year.” Where is the plan, the accountability? Two initiatives: public health and coordination of education efforts through the regional superintendent of schools are the jurisdiction of counties. So, we should invest more wisely in those efforts.
As it is, our health department gets most of its funds from grants. Maichle “Mike” Bacon, public health administrator of the Winnebago County Health Department, and his staff do a phenomenal job finding and getting those grants. However, I’d rather not have to rely so heavily on handouts for our public health programs.
Public health is “infrastructure,” just as roads are infrastructure. Both public health and local road building require mixing and matching local tax dollars with state and federal tax dollars to make programs happen. As not to be dependent on begging for public health infrastructure dollars, we should spend landfill tipping fee revenue on coordinated public health, education and job training programs that have measurable goals, focused on laying the groundwork for consistent economic development.
Or, we could continue with spending plans that have no measurable return on investment and are not consistent with the role of county government. Which brings me back to the title of the article, “Let’s just continue our failed policies.” No, let’s not do that.
We need your help now. An effort to cut the county’s portion of the health department budget by $300,000 failed recently. Board members may try to put the cuts in place when they vote on the new budget next week. Ask your county board member to support the health department and to vote against any cuts to its already meager budget.
Paul Gorski (http://www.paulgorski.com) is a Cherry Valley Township resident and a former Winnebago County Board member.
From the Sept. 19-25, 2012, issue