By Paul Gorski
For the past two weeks, I’ve asked residents to tell their county board members to vote against cuts to the Winnebago County Health department budget. Lo and behold, County Board Chairman Scott Christiansen (R) spoke out against the cuts at a county board committee meeting last week. Not behind closed doors, mind you, but at an open meeting.
Mr. Christiansen and I have had our disagreements in the past, but on this issue we agree. Cuts to the health department budget are not advised at this time, doing so would hurt essential services. I thank Chairman Christiansen for openly defending the health department’s budget.
Now, I think it is time for the county board’s finance and economic development committees to stand up and do more to fund the health department. As I have written these past few weeks, I see investments in public health programs as a driver of economic development.
The board’s economic development committee, headed by John Ekberg, is simply a rubber stamp for tax abatement applications. I believe Ekberg and other county board members need to be more creative with economic development.
Ekberg typically votes with the majority and against the prevailing wage act. Voting for the same-old same-old doesn’t help much, and I consider living wages very important to economic development, and hope that we can bring more prevailing wage jobs here. I also wish that Ekberg and his committee would have done some basic financial background checks on the Wight company a few years back.
Wight asked for zoning changes so they could build an ethanol plant in the county. The zoning changes for the plant were challenged by residents, and the plans to build the plant were eventually dropped because of Wight’s financial and legal concerns in other areas of the country. But the county went through costly legal challenges with nothing to show for it. A simple background check would have shown Wight’s growing problems and alerted county board members.
So, this is an area where the economic development committee should have gotten involved, but didn’t, and it cost the county time and money. Now, I’m suggesting that the economic development committee get involved, and help invest tipping dollars in education and public health as a means of economic development.
Ekberg is being challenged this election by Democrat Burt Gerl, who by all accounts is a very bright working guy. Perhaps a bright guy like Gerl will bring forth some new ideas, as we certainly need them. Whether it’s Gerl, Ekberg or someone else, I like to see the economic development committee move forward with some innovative ideas and do more than rubber stamp tax abatements.
For background information, please review my previous articles: “Better health care and education will spur job growth, part one” (Sept. 5-11 issue) and “Meet John Doe: Better health care and education will spur job growth, part two” (Sept. 12-18).
Paul Gorski (www.paulgorski.com) is a Cherry Valley Township resident and a former Winnebago County Board member.
From the Sept. 26-Oct. 2, 2012, issue