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Column: Council member says 'Our cash flow is very tight'

After the arrest of Dixon Comptroller Rita Crundwell last week, I looked through the minutes of City Council meetings going back to January 2009.

Some passages popped out in light of the accusations that Crundwell “misappropriated” $30 million from city coffers since 2006.

In April 2011, longtime Finance Commissioner Roy Bridgeman thanked many in city government. He was leaving the City Council.

The minutes read, “Lastly, Commissioner Bridgeman stated that City Comptroller Rita Crundwell is a big asset to the city as she looks after every dollar as if it were her own.”

That statement may take on a new meaning if the feds prove their case against Crundwell.

Since 2009, officials have lamented the city’s financial situation a number of times. In light of the present reality, you may find these nuggets from the minutes interesting:

– April 28, 2009: Roy Bridgeman said that “commissioners keep a very close eye on their departments’ budgets.” He also said “there is a no money for street work.” He said “more cuts are needed and services have to be cut. …”

– Jan. 19, 2010: Bridgeman said the city was “really short this year.”

– June 21, 2010: Bridgeman said this was a “very tight budget and over $1 million was cut from last year’s. He advised the city did not hire replacement personnel for retired and resigned employees.” He also said the city was $52,144 in deficit, “but hopes the state comes through with the money due to the city.”

– July 6, 2010: Bridgeman said “our cash flow is very tight and he asked all departments to curb their spending.”

– July 19, 2010: Bridgeman said cutbacks “have left fewer employees with more work to do.”

– Oct. 4, 2010: Bridgeman said the city was “very short on money and stated budgets need to be tightened.”

– May 9, 2011: Comptroller Crundwell was asked about the city’s cash flow. “She advised the situation is terrible and stated the last income tax payment from the state was in July 2010.”

– June 30, 2011: Commissioner David Blackburn, who took over as finance commissioner after Bridgeman, reported cuts in the police, cemetery and street departments.

– Oct. 17, 2011: Blackburn said the “city is in a fiscal crisis.” He said that was because of tax caps, decreased landfill revenue, rising health care costs and the state being 8 months behind on payments.

– Nov. 21, 2011: Regarding funding for the Dixon band, Commissioner Jeff Kuhn said that “with the city’s cash flow problems, the council had to look at all options.”

– April 11, 2011: Bridgeman spoke about serious problems the city was facing. He cited no income tax revenue from the state and “exorbitant” medical claims being paid out.

– March 12, 2012: Blackburn “reminded everyone that Rita advised the state is still delaying our tax payments. Then he told everyone to get budget cuts in by March 22.”

So many townships, so little scrutiny

Recently, we ran a number of stories on township government.

Afterward, one area township official told me he ran for his position because he wanted to improve his township government, but now he questions the need for that level of government.

Another person told me he found township government cumbersome.

Neither wanted to be associated with such opinions publicly. The first didn’t want to offend his fellow township officials; the other said he has friends in township government.

Township advocates are quick to say their governments are closest to the people. Perhaps, but they get far less scrutiny from the public and the media than other levels of government.

On the second Tuesday of April, every township must hold its annual meeting. That fell on April 10 this year. Of the 44 townships in Whiteside and Lee counties, our news staff attended a grand total of one.

Even if we decided to send our entire news staff, including page designers and sports guys, to cover annual meetings, we would be able to go to only about half.

Because of the great number of townships, they often can operate under the radar. When was the last spellbinding election for a township position – supervisor, clerk, road commissioner, assessor or trustee? It’s not a common occurrence.

Recently, a couple of people told me that townships are often all in the family.

I looked over the names of township officials in Lee and Whiteside counties. Of the 22 townships in Lee, nine of them have elected officials with the same last names. In Whiteside, four of the 22 have the same situation.

Of course, this analysis didn’t include family members with different last names or unelected township employees.

In fairness, area villages also have family members among their elected officials. Two brothers serve on the Ashton village board, and the Tampico mayor’s husband is a commissioner.

When a government is all in the family, that may be an indication that many people aren’t interested.

Sauk Valley Media reporter David Giuliani covers the Whiteside and Lee county governments, Morrison and other smaller communities. He can be reached at dgiuliani@saukvalley or at 800-798-4085, ext. 525.

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