Column: Spending money on study after study seems irresponsible

Published 12:00 am Monday, September 15, 2003

Fiscal responsibility? Or Fiscal irresponsibility? That is the question. What is going on here? Let’s see, now: First we spent $3,000 for a retreat to plan what the council might do and how they might work better together. Then we approved a $25,000 outlay for a study of the feasibility of building a new library. Then we agreed to hire a firm to set up a proposed strategic plan for Albert Lea at $40,000.

Then, just a little while ago, on Aug. 25, the city council approved a $20,000 expenditure to study the advisability or wisdom of a local sales tax referendum.

Let me figure a minute, here. I come up with $88,000 and holding. Or is it $88,000 and spending? Perhaps I should apologize to the people who are promoting these studies, for I just do not understand them or the need for them. Perhaps the retreat was worth the $3,000. I cannot judge. But, it seems that there are local spellbinders who might set up a love-fest like that and could do probably the same thing for perhaps $300? Or am I too old, too stingy, and just not with the program?

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Now, as I recall, the first go-around on the library study for $25,000 was turned down. Then there was some campaigning and possibly a little brain washing, and the $25,000 was approved on the second go-around, partly on the basis that, &uot;well, it was already in the budget, and needed to be spent&uot; or words to that effect. So, at this time, the feasibility of the library is being &uot;studied&uot; and we shall receive a report in due time. I am going to make a point of obtaining a copy of that $25,000 report. May I suggest that perhaps a &uot;select&uot; committee of three or four could go to Austin, ask them to discuss the mistakes that were made on their new library, and ask them what they would do differently if given a chance? This select committee would work on a volunteer basis, write a report, and be proud to have saved the city and county $25,000. Make any sense?

The chamber of commerce is apparently going to handle the process of obtaining a strategic plan for the city. Some of our very public figures have been pressing for this plan for months. I understand that the city is furnishing the entire $40,000 sum to the chamber for the study. Why? Where did that money come from? I do not recall any effort on the part of anyone to raise the $40,000 privately. Are we so flush with cash that we can just spend at will? I doubt it!

I will not question the chamber’s veracity or ingenious ability to determine what is best for the business community of Albert Lea and Freeborn County. I do want a strategic plan. I think we need a strategic plan. I do, however, question the need for an outside firm charging $40,000-plus to make this study at this time. It would make a lot more sense to me to pay someone $5,000 to help choose a local committee of three or four who were willing and capable of accomplishing the task. In that way we might possibly avoid the old adage of &uot;the incapable, selected by the unwilling, to do the unnecessary.&uot; Here again, I am going to make a point of obtaining a copy of this study.

Now we come to the study to enlighten our leaders about the need, wisdom and possible results of a local sales tax. Is that the purpose of the study? That is what I can determine from my questioning. Are we so sure that a sales tax will solve our problems that we will spend $20,000 to find out? What are the chances of obtaining permission to charge a sales tax? Is there any chance that we have the cart out in front of the horse?

Who is our leader?

Who is holding the rope that leads the ponies? Where are we going and what do we do when we get there?

Many people are concerned about the new water district, their board of directors, their ability to levy taxes, what they will do, when they will do it, and on and on. I hope that the new strategic plan for the city and the county will take all of these things into account. I am anxious to see this &uot;plan.&uot; Is it possible that what we will get is a study of the feasibility of a plan? I always worry about &uot;studies&uot; by outsiders. In the several studies I have been involved in handled in this manner, it was the people ordering the study that told the facilitators what the end result of the study should be. We got absolutely nowhere. I just cannot believe that there are no local people who know our city and county and who could write a very coherent, intelligent, farsighted strategic plan for the city and county.

Isn’t it time that we practice some basic conservative fiscal practices? Stop spending. Buy or build only when we can afford it. No deficit spending. STOP!

Please remember my admonitions from the past. We have a nasty little habit around this town to kill the messenger. Listen, folks! I &uot;want&uot; a lot of the things we are considering. But I don’t need them this instant. Let’s get our ducks in a row before we load the rifles.

(Warren Jensen is an Albert Lea resident.)