Letters Why we speak out
To the editor:
I am writing to address inaccuracies that have been in the Plain Talk in recent weeks. Mr. Dahl wrote to complain about my speaking on budget issues at council meetings, I don't know whom Mr. Dahl thinks he's been watching at city council meetings, but until two weeks ago, I hadn't been there since the early months of 2003… almost a year.
It's not always easy to have the courage to speak out. From calls and letters we've received, however, we know that many taxpayers feel exactly as we do about city spending but are hesitant to speak at televised public meetings. They can see what happens to those who do… that they are vilified personally. It's no wonder that we've had business owners tell us they are afraid to speak out.
We did not carry a petition against a new city hall, nor had we spoken out about the issue prior to the vote. We only felt it necessary to come forward when it became apparent that the mayor and some council members were ready to ignore the vote of the taxpayers.
As for his editorial, Mr. Lias knows very well the reason for the holdup of the Chestnut Street project. I realize that Mr. Lias has to stir up controversy in order to sell newspapers, but while he attempted to blame homeowners and their "shenanigans" for the delay, anyone who followed the issue knows that it was caused by litigation made necessary when the mayor and city council attempted to deny the taxpayers their right to vote on the project. Had they acknowledged the taxpayers' constitutional rights and not attempted to subvert them, the project could have been done two years ago at a lesser cost.
It is interesting to watch the newspaper editor and others attempt to divert the focus of the city hall discussion away from the issues and to the personalities involved. The financial issues for Vermillion taxpayers are very real, however, and they need to be addressed. We are not necessarily against moving city hall to the bank building. We spoke out because we don't believe the taxpayers have the honest facts they need to make the decision.
After Mayor Kozak admitted that the estimate of $1.1 million for renovations wasn't really based on fact, we asked that the mayor and council do their homework this time around and honestly address taxpayer concerns. For example, what will happen to the present building if city hall moves but the city keeps the old building? If it's in such bad shape, how much will it cost to fix it up and rent it out, as the city plans? Unless the city sells that building, we're going to end up fixing it up anyway. This time, can we truly get a modest estimate to remodel the present building that actually takes into account the available parking that the city already owns? We were sold the new fire hall on the notion that by moving the fire trucks out of the present city hall it would leave room for the expansion and remodeling of the building for city offices. Remember?
At city budget meetings I have heard discussions about the city opting out of the state tax limits. City fees have been raised. The mayor has suggested raising our electric rates and wants the state to change its laws so that he can charge a new lodging tax and hire more staff. Vermillion has not grown, so present taxpayers are being asked to support an ever-growing city budget.
It's common sense that we can't keep spending the way we are as city without negative ramifications. Vermillion has huge economic challenges coming down the road. Is there perhaps a more efficient way to spend our tax dollars to promote a healthier economic climate than spending money on a new city hall? Discussion of these issues is healthy and necessary.
I speak out because I love this town. I was born here. My children are the fifth generation of our family to live in Vermillion. I'd love to see another generation grow up here as well, and I sincerely hope that we have city council members who truly take their fiduciary duty to the taxpayers of Vermillion to heart.