Some viewed talk of spending nearly $50 million for a new county jail proposed for property adjacent to Highway 41 North a bit over the top. Others questioned the millions being spent for a new headquarters for Central Library downtown across the street from the recently renovated $40 million Centre, another project for which there was no political constituency. They also well remember the nearly 8,500 signatures collected on a remonstrance petition in opposition to the proposed county-wide Victory theater bond issue -- a project which was later rammed through by then-Mayor Frank F. McDonald, II despite the intense public opposition expressed throughout this community.
But here in the new century, while some of the names and faces have changed, the behavior of the power establishment in this community remains very much the same.
Taxpayers are now being asked to approve a proposed $70 million bond referendum being proposed by the administration of the Evansville Vanderburgh School Corporation (EVSC) and are watching in amazement as the highly unpopular $24 million downtown baseball stadium is being rammed through by Mayor Russell Lloyd, Jr. and his cohorts.
A brief look at the aggregate spending figures for local city, county and school corporation operations over the past several years shows why local taxpayers are outraged and asking serious questions about what we can be done to stop the insanity downtown.
From city budget documents cordially unearthed by reference librarians at Central Library, several hours of study reveals that municipal spending in Evansville has risen from some $15.4 million in fiscal 1973 to over $142.6 million in 2001, roughly a 922 per cent increase in dollar terms over 28 years (note: all reported figures are not adjusted for inflation). Similar figures gleaned from numerous handbooks of School Statistical Reports from the Farm Bureau Local Affairs Committee in Indianapolis and the school corporation show a similar growth trend. EVSC spending from 1979 to 2001 rose from $40.5 million to over $133.9 million, representing a 320 per cent spending increase in 22 years. This means that with the additional $70 million in tax levy proposed in the School Corporation’s referendum, EVSC budget authority could easily exceed $200 million by fiscal 2010.
Finally, thanks to the good offices of Terry Lukeman, County Council Secretary, I was able to learn that county spending increases, while more modest than the city and the school corporation, also rose from some $15.2 million in 1972 to $75.6 million in fiscal 2002, a 490 per cent increase over the 30 year period.
It is hard to imagine any local corporation or business which has experienced anything like this enormous growth in their net profits after taxes.
It also demonstrates why Vanderburgh county has lost its competitive advantage to other counties with respect to ongoing economic development efforts.
If pressed, local decision-makers will probably attest that some of these increases were forced upon local units of government by unfunded federal mandates and that some of the spending represents state and federal money returned to local government in the form of grants.
Still, in all, the money was obtained from somewhere -- ultimately taxpayers.
What is perhaps even more important is the effective burden these enormous spending increases are placing upon a shrinking tax base.
With the help of employees of the Area Plan Commission, I was able to find city and county census data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Over the 30 year period from 1970 until 2000, the county increased in population from 168,772 to 171,922 representing an increase of some 3,150 residents. However, during the same period the population of the City of Evansville showed a dramatic decrease of from 138,764 to 121,582 -- a loss of 17,182 residents (this statistic was deleted from the original story).
From these data it is easy to understand why people like Pigeon Township Trustee Paul Hatfield are outraged over yet another Tax Increment Financing district in his township and taxpayers across the city screaming foul ball regarding the Mayor’s baseball stadium plan. Over time, a larger and larger tax burden is being carried by a dramatically shrinking city population.
With all of these facts plus the looming property tax reassessment in mind, a small group of concerned citizens are calling for the creation of a Vanderburgh County Taxpayer’s Association in an effort to require our local elected and appointed officials to halt this outrageous spending and make them more politically accountable. Our first meeting in this organizational effort will be Thursday March 6th at old McCutchanville School at 7:00 p.m.
All Vanderburgh County citizens who are either taxpayers or registered voters are urged to attend.
(David Coker is an Evansville free-lance writer. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org)