EDGAR CO. (ECWd) –
I think everyone is well aware of the financial turmoil our country is in, as well as our state. It has become so overwhelming most agree that this much debt is next to impossible to fix as long as the very people that put us in that debt continue to run things. As I have said for years, if you can’t fix it locally you will never fix it at the state or national level. That leads us to the same basic issue, which is how much debt are we dealing with locally?
Shared between Four Public Bodies In Edgar County!
“No way”, you say? Impossible?
Time for some much needed truth as was referenced in yesterday’s Paris Beacon Editorial from Mr. Smith. We see in the papers regularly how local public bodies “pass” their audit when the reality is there is no pass or fail of a standard public audit and in most cases no one even reads the details contained in those so called “passed” audits.
Dixon, Illinois had audits for years and no one found anything wrong, yet just last year a conviction was established for theft of over $53 Million dollars, even though they “passed” their audits! It took a “forensic” audit to uncover the truth.
Ford-Iroquois Public Health Department had similar audits for years and board members from both counties insisted, one to this day, nothing was wrong and the audits support such a position. A “forensic” Audit proved them wrong and exposed the very criminal acts we wrote about for over a year. Currently, higher authorities are investigating that multi-million dollar theft of taxpayer’s funds and all indications point to future indictments!
East Central Illinois Mass Transit District “passed” their audits, yet after wrongdoing was exposed a “forensic” audit has now led to the federal authorities taking over and from what we understand a clear pursuit of criminal charges are still forthcoming in that theft of public money as well.
Edgar County audits for 2010 and 2011 reflected basically the same thing, accounts balanced and all is good, however we know for a fact the audit did not catch the theft of over $20,000.00 in credit card purchases made by Chandra Smith. It was not until a “forensic” audit was requested that the theft was exposed. You can see HERE for yourself the amazing purchases being made, all while not a single board member raised a question until very late in the game! Yes, she was charged and convicted, however, the failure of the standard audit to find such theft simply makes our point, audits tell you little about how your tax money is being spent.
That old saying “the devil’s in the details” sadly holds so true when it comes to statutory audits of public bodies and it’s high time the public start reading those audits and learning what is really happening with their tax dollars!
Take Paris, Illinois for example. The Paris Beacon headline on January 29th was “A Job Well Done – Audit shows that Paris’ books are in fine shape”. In the news story it claims the audit is clean and then put a definition to clean as meaning the accounts balance and records are being kept according to sound accounting principles. They go on to claim independent audits help assure taxpayers their money is being used for the intended purposes. I think we can safely disagree with that assessment based on the four previous mentioned audits that disprove such a comment. In fact, you may recall these articles (1, 2) that point to use of public funds in violation of the law yet nothing in the audit about those actions either.
I appreciate the Editorial Board’s opinion, but what is the rest of the story that the public might have a major interest in knowing?
You may recall that we covered the Audit information for the Clark Edgar Rural Water District that painted a rosy picture of their financial situation. When questioned about the massive “Bond Debt”, they claimed they don’t count interest, even though they are paying it. The debt load that is paid on the backs of the customers at the time of the article was over $24,000,000.00 ($24 Million Dollars!)
Looking at the so called “clean” Audit for the City of Paris, we can see that the reported long term debt is $17,665,020.00! In order to see the whole picture you have to “read” the details. That reported $17,665,020.00 of reported long term debt does not include the interest!
If you add the interest, using the audit numbers, the actual long term debt is reported to be $26,755,943 dollars. Using the actual Speer Financial Debt Service Schedules that we obtained through a FOIA, the actual number appears to be $34,089,500.20! (That figure was obtained by adding the remaining payments due as outlined on the payment schedule)
Just the city debt total amounts to $15,738.44 on the backs of an average family of four, or $3,934.61 on the backs of every Man, Woman, and Child in the City of Paris!
With a new school being built we can see additional bond debt for the two school districts as well. Crestwood, District 4 currently has a Bond debt obligation of $9,076,177.
District 95 numbers in their audit summary they provided claimed a debt of $9,533,016 however when the interest is included in that long term debt the actual Principal with Interest totals reflect a debt of $12,614,467.50
$55,780,144.70 of Debt for a city with a population of 8,664
$6,438.15 on the backs of every Man, Woman and Child!
Adding the last reported Bond debt of the Clark Edgar Rural Water District, which was $23,568,371.00 we can see a real problem has crept into our local society, just as it has at the state and national level.
Only four Edgar County Public Bodies, and the total debt of those agencies appears to total $79,348,515.70!
Seventy Nine Million, Three Hundred Forty Eight Thousand, Five Hundred Fifteen dollars and Seventy cents!
Does anyone have any concern that we have over $79 Million dollars of debt in this county?
Now I understand the infrastructure needs maintained and schools need upgraded, however, the question I think is fair: where was the planning for these matters? Being a community surrounded with agriculture you don’t have to go far to see a farmer in the field with new equipment. Most that I have spoken with plan for those major purchases. Planning that included setting funding aside to be able to afford it and for those that had to borrow, they make monthly payments that include both principal and interest. That basic principal I believe most are familiar with.
The city of Paris has payments structured for its bond payments that reflect NO PRINCIPAL payments ranging from 6 years to 13 years depending on the Bond.
The same practice is found with District 95 and its Bond Payments.
For all those with a credit card, is it safe to assume you know that if you only pay the principal you will never get the card paid off? The longer you avoid principal payments the more interest you pay, thus the more it cost you to use the credit!
Why do people not pay more on the debt they have? Anyone?
You can’t afford it!
Can anyone explain how a claim that the “Pairs Books are in Fine Shape”, when they fail to reflect all the years the taxpayers are only paying interest on the debt their city leaders created?
In defense of the accountants, they did exactly what the state says they have to do, ensure the math adds up and accounts balance. My point is not to imply that auditors are not doing their job, or that we don’t need a new water system or new schools. My point is we must move towards a common sense approach to fiscal management of our tax dollars that includes better planning and better control of our debt load.
The leaders in so many communities are failing to do their job and protect our tax dollars and when those same officials are running things for so long, it’s clear to see, the problem lies with those we have placed our trust in. Close business relationships become well established that place the priority on taking care of their own interests instead of remembering it’s “We the People” that should be the priority.
Questions I think we need to all start asking, where is this money going? Have a select few made a small fortune because of their close political connections and control? Is this the system of representation our founding fathers envisioned?
The sad part of this picture, it only represents FOUR public bodies! I am willing to bet that the rest of the schools, as well as the county, have Bond Debts which would take the real debt number in excess of $80 Million Dollars of debt in a county with less than 20,000 people!
Can we now better appreciate the problem we face at the National or State level? How many generations are we going to place into bondage with the debt load created by those enriching themselves?
With only a 31% voter turnout in last week’s election I pray that this message wakes the rest of the community and brings change.