Local resident and former Shelbyville City Council Member, Cheryl Etherton, questions the city's plan to vacate the Criminal Justice Center in order to relocate the Shelbyville Police Department in a refurbished church building.
She submitted an opinion letter to the local newspaper which was published Friday, Nov. 21, 2008.
Etherton's original letter was was much lengthier, asked many more questions, and was deemed to be too large for publication in The Shelbyville News. Both versions of her letter follow:
(The Short Version published in The Shelbyville News 11/21/08):
Shelbyville Officials Want More Than They Really Need
Most families must decide between "needs" and "wants." I often wonder if our current city leaders distinguish between needs and wants when spending taxpayer dollars.
The city claims there's a "need" to relocate the Shelbyville Police Department and a "need" to create additional office space. The city plans to purchase a church building and remodel it for our administration, which seems to have outgrown its current space virtually overnight. It seems to be a "want" rather than a "need."
Do city council members really need additional space when they only meet at the city hall twice a month? Even with the occasional use of the existing chamber by a handful of other boards and committees, I think most people will logically conclude that this latest city project does not qualify as an actual need.
Have Shelbyville officials considered holding government meetings in the city's new conference center at Intelliplex Park?
Shelby County contracted with the city to contribute millions of EDIT dollars to help build the jail in the early 1990s - a jail the county was forced to construct due to a lawsuit. The county also promised the city a new home for the police department with no strings - or rent payments - attached after the jail bonds were paid off.
Once the Criminal Justice Center was constructed, the city was supposed to "own" its portion of the building and continue to be responsible for only the maintenance and utilities for their area.
Do the city and county now share costs that would be duplicated at taxpayers' expense if the city moves? How much of the equipment that the city and county currently share at the jail belongs to the city from the initial move to the Criminal Justice Center? Will the city be forced - or need - to buy new equipment? Will county taxpayers be forced to replace equipment?
There are many unanswered questions about the city's plan to vacate the Criminal Justice Center. Shame on our current leaders for not doing a more thorough job of investigating past agreements.
As a former city council member, wife of a former police chief and a taxpayer, I would like to see the current administration return the "pride" in our city's progress, or cease using it in our city's motto.
Cheryl I. (Atwood) Etherton
(The Original Long Version):
As a nation, we are facing some of the greatest financial challenges we have faced in our lifetimes. Many Americans have to decide on a monthly, a weekly, and even a daily basis, what their true needs are, as opposed to what their wants are. Can we, the taxpayers, say we feel that our city leaders are doing the same on our behalf? Do our city leaders sit down and trim their personal budgets at home as we are being forced to do with ours? They certainly do not seem to be doing that with the city's budget or with their plans of building, expanding and spending more of our taxpayer dollars.
One of the city's latest "needs" is a call for relocating the Police Department and for creating additional space for city officials. They are planning to purchase a building and remodel it to add office space for our city administration which seems to have outgrown its current space over-night. It appears to be a "want" rather than a "need". Do the council members really need additional space when they only meet twice a month? Even with the use of the existing common council chamber by a few other boards and committees, I think most people will conclude that this seems to be a "want" rather than a true need. Have city officials considered holding government meetings in the city's new conference center at Intelliplex? How many times a month is the city currently using the new meeting space at Intelliplex?
The proposed expenditure for a new police department/city office space project is occurring right before our eyes while we are preoccupied with deciding what else we "need" to live without in order to get by. Does the city really need a new police department? Does the city really need additional space for city administrators? Or is the project just another "want" that we can live without for a while longer.
I happen to recall that the Criminal Justice Center deal seemed a lot different to the taxpayers several years ago when Shelby County asked the City of Shelbyville for assistance. The county desperately needed the city's help by way of EDIT dollars in order to build a new jail that the county was being forced to construct due to a lawsuit. I also seem to recall that the county sold the plan as an investment that would result in a new home for the city police department without strings or rent payments being attached at the end. I seem to remember that we, as a city, were helping the county, as well as ourselves, by contributing city EDIT money. Once the Criminal Justice Center and new jail (tunnel and all) was constructed, The city was supposed to "own" its portion of the building and be responsible only for maintenance upkeep and utilities. What happened to that agreement? Why does Shelby County now want to receive rent payments from the city? Were we promised something that didn't really exist? Or has that agreement been completely forgotten now that the county conveniently doesn't want to remember it? Is there more to this issue of why the city wants to move? Or does the county want the city out of the Criminal Justice Center because of some undisclosed reason? Why haven't Shelbyville city leaders inquired why this is happening? Why aren't they defending city residents better, regarding the money that was invested in this project? Isn't this like buying a car, making loan payments, then being required to make lease payments after the original purchase loan has been paid off?
I have many questions that have not been asked or addressed. Have city officials been planning for this event to occur when the jail debt is paid off? Or has it just recently come to light? If so, how long has it been publicly discussed? Why hasn't anyone questioned what our EDIT money bought for the city's investment back in the early 90's up to the present day? Did we just give that money away? Or have we reaped some kind of benefit from it? If we gained nothing from our investment, one could conclude that we spent a lot of money for nothing. It seems as though current city leaders have been working with their eyes closed and their minds shut throughout this process. Have city officials looked at other buildings or considered other sites besides the church that they have already decided we must buy? The city administration's "must-have" site is a beautiful old church building, but what additional costs will be incurred to remove the stained glass windows and other religious items and handiwork in order to insure the separation of church and state? Regardless of where the Police Department "wants" to move, there would seem to be a great many costs that we currently share with the county which would be duplicated at taxpayers' expense. It would seem to me that the electrical wiring would need a major re-haul to accommodate the police department's equipment requirements. If it's eventually determined that additional space is actually needed, would it be more cost-effective to build from the ground up instead of rehabbing an old, existing building? Who authorized the study that has already been completed at taxpayer expense? Did our city leaders make sure the taxpayers were made aware that they were conducting a study on this issue? After the study was completed, taxpayers have only been told that this is what we "need" to do for the good of our city, a city which has grown overnight. Since when has parking at the current location become an issue? How often is the lack of parking spaces a problem? How much of the equipment that the city and county currently share belongs to the city from the initial move to the Criminal Justice Center? Does the city plan to take its equipment with them if they leave? Or will they just buy new equipment because they "need" it? If so, how much will that cost county taxpayers to replace equipment?
Our city keeps "needing" more, but has it truly grown large enough to merit its "wants"? I question the city administration's judgment when I see the kind of spending they have approved with items such as new vehicles for employees. With Gas prices soaring and the realization that the world is running short on resources, why do we continue purchasing large SUV and fancy new cars, especially for the Police Department? Is it about true "need"? Or is it about image? What has happened to the Mustang, a police vehicle the taxpayers purchased several years ago, that the city "needed"? They "needed" it to be able to chase down the massive amount of speeders violating speed limits on our city streets. I haven't seen it in action for quite some time now? Did we trade it in? Or did it just get passed on to someone else in the city to use for a different purpose other than the main reason we "needed" it to begin with? Most of the time, when I see a city SUV vehicle it only has a driver and maybe one passenger in it. Is that really cost-effective? Every single department of the city appears to have at least one of them driving around guzzling gas on and off the clock. The only time they appear to be loaded with more passengers is when city employees are transporting their families around town. I think it would have been more cost-effective at this time to have done a study on trimming the current city costs and finding ways to trim the fat out of all city department budgets line by line. This of course would not have helped the city to create more expenses for the common taxpayer so maybe that's why they did not have that type of study done.
Regardless on the reasons why, we "appear" to be in a position of "needing" a new home for the Police Department - shame on our city leaders for not doing a more thorough job of investigating past agreements and planning for our future. Suddenly we seem to be in a major rush to commit to yet another city spending project at taxpayer expense while citizens are facing hard economic times. Why the rush? Are we just being force-fed another project in order to keep it under the radar? Is the city hoping that citizens are so consumed in trying to keep from losing their own homes and trying to get by, that they will not pay attention and allow this new project to pass? Will elected officials please slow down long enough to determine if the county is truly justified in charging the city rent for occupying space at the Criminal Justice Center? Will they dig deep enough to find out why the original promise has not been kept? This agreement and project started under former Mayor Theobald and finished under former Mayor Williams. Both of these men still live in our community - have any of our current council representatives sought their advice on how the original agreement was formulated? There is no one on either the city or county council from the days when the original agreement was struck regarding the Criminal Justice Center, but somewhere there must be documents on how the arrangements were to be handled once the debt was satisfied. I have not heard anyone questioning this fact. I have been asking questions of former officials and taxpayers who were involved and I plan to continue doing so. My purpose is not to stop progress, but to question how we have gotten to where we are without more public debate. In light of the hard economic times, I hope our city leaders will be looking out for the best interests of our citizens as closely as possible where our tax dollars are concerned.
This community has operated under the motto of "if we build it - they will come" during the last several years. I think many can see where that that kind of thinking has been flawed with projects like Intelliplex. There are still many unanswered questions regarding that project. One of my biggest questions concerning Intelliplex is what happens to taxpayers and the investment we have already made if the park loses its status and state certification? Are the current occupants living up to their end of the bargain and are they paying their fair share? Are the current tenants pleased with the results so far? Are they planning to stick it out if the tech park loses its status or do they plan to leave if that happens? What has the newest marketing company done to help the park retain its status and have they recruited any new investors or tenants with their aggressive plans that got them hired? Was the new healing gardens recently constructed in Intelliplex paid for with tax dollars? Was it a "want" or a true "need"? How much did that project cost? Was there a study done to determine it was a "need" or did the marketing firm that we employ decide that it was a "need" for our community? Do they feel that the dollars spent will help the park retain its certification? Will Intelliplex be yet another project that the taxpayers have thrown their money away on?
Our city officials are so quick to add more taxes on us but when do we ever read that a tax burden has been lifted from us? Can anyone recall a tax that has been taken away once a project has been finished? Usually the money just starts going to something else for "our" benefit.
As a former city council member, a wife of a former police chief, and a taxpayer, I would like to see the current administration return the "pride" in our city's progress, or cease using it in the city's motto.
Cheryl I (Atwood) Etherton
Posted: Tuesday, November 25, 2008
Article comment by:
My last letter to the editor over the Beer in the park was taken to the city council meeting before it was ever printed in the paper. Very funny that Fergy's Follies controls even letters to the editor.