Governments large and small spend a lot of money on a variety of items, as illustrated in Sunday’s story about miscellaneous government expenses.
Many of these expenses are necessary, although some can seem odd during an initial look.
For example, the school district in Farmer City spends money each year for bounce houses and face painting as part of an event that welcomes new kindergarten students to the school. Parents appreciate the event, which makes the new students a little more comfortable in their surroundings. Is it a necessity? Of course not. But if it helps kindergartners settle into school a little faster, it’s probably worth the investment.
There are times, however, when good intentions can end up costing local governments — and taxpayers — a lot of money. The Decatur Township Board decided a few years ago to purchase a building for its offices. The building, located at 1620 S. Taylorville Road, has become something of a money pit. Bids for the renovation work were more than anticipated and exceeded $1 million.
The township board recently spent another $50,000 on the building to get it ready for a tenant who will share the space. It’s questionable whether the township ever needed offices of its own, but there’s little doubt the spending has been out of control.
Some expenses are troubling, but unavoidable. The McLean County Jail, for example, spends more than $400,000 a year on health care for inmates. That’s a lot of money, but state law says the jail is responsible for the health of inmates while they are incarcerated. There’s little doubt that most inmates probably receive better health care in jail than when they are free.
Most local governments do a pretty good job of keeping expenses under control, especially when compared to federal and state governments. However, local governments should do more. The burden on taxpayers is huge and the future will demand more government cooperation and ultimately, consolidation. Few government officials are willing to discuss what appears to be inevitable. Taxpayers want efficient government service at the lowest possible price. One way to accomplish that goal is to make government more efficient through consolidation.
Taxpayers play a role in local government spending, too. First, they should encourage governments to focus on what government does well and stay away from tasks that are better performed by the private sector. Second, taxpayers need to keep a watchful eye on government expenses. Governments should be open and transparent about how they spend public dollars and taxpayers should not be shy about asking.
After all, it’s the taxpayers who are paying the bills.