The Allen County commissioners laid out a bold plan Monday to raise $3.5 million annually over 10 years to address four large building or renovation projects.
It’ll be up to the taxpayers in May to decide if it’s too bold of a plan and if it’s the best way forward for the county.
We agree something has to be done to keep the county-owned, and thus taxpayer-owned, properties in their best condition.
We see some hits and misses from the commissioners already:
• Kudos for introducing a 0.2 percent sales tax increase, estimated to raise $3.5 million. They were aware of a new law allowing something smaller than a quarter-percent sales tax increase. They were also aware of just how unpopular a 0.25 percent sales tax increase was in the fall for the Allen County Regional Transit Authority, as it raised more money than that group needed.
• The plan includes setting aside $1 million a year for maintenance of existing facilities. Underspending in this category — including less than half a million a year during the lean years of 2009-2011 — is what got the county in its mess in the first place. We worry, however, that with rising costs, $1 million won’t go as far as the commissioners hope it might in 2028.
• Good job laying forth a timeline that walks through how you’d spend the money. By the commissioners’ estimation, they won’t have to borrow any money, as the projects — $7.1 million for the juvenile detention center offices, $3.5 million for new county administrative offices, $11 million for courthouse renovations and then $7 million for a new county engineer facility — would be completed after the money from sales taxes arrived.
• It’s disappointing to see Memorial Hall wasn’t on the list of facilities in need of renovations. That once-beautiful building continues to sit vacant and mothballed, waiting for someone to invest the money needed to bring it back to its former glory. We’re hopeful knowing it’s not part of the commissioners’ vision in the next 10 years motivates community members to take on the project themselves.
• We simply believe the county owns too much property — 154 properties valued at a combined $60.8 million, according to a search of the Allen County Auditor’s Office’s website. In that number are 50 properties valued at $25,000 or more. These figured don’t even include properties owned by the county via foreclosures or land bank actions. We wish this plan included more properties turned back over to the private sector, where someone would pay taxes on it again.
• We’re frustrated they selected a more expensive option to renovate the existing courthouse instead of letting voters decide its fate. Commissioners admitted they could replace the courthouse less expensively than fixing up the current one. We would’ve welcomed the public dialogue on that option.
• The sales tax option seems the safest route, especially compared to trying to tax real estate more. Sales tax is the closest our country comes to a consumption tax and seems like a fair one. The fact Allen County shares the lowest sales tax rate in the region right now at 6.75 makes this a possibility. It has the added benefit that out-of-county shoppers would help fund these renovations.
Overall, we look forward to hearing the commissioners in the coming months explain and refine their plan.