Driven by former Comptroller Rita Crundwell’s secret thievery, financial problems afflicting the city of Dixon were years in the making.
That they haven’t been repaired in the mere months since Crundwell’s April arrest should surprise no one.
Crundwell pleaded guilty last month to federal wire fraud. She admitted to stealing nearly $54 million in city funds since 1990 to pay for her “lavish” lifestyle and championship quarter horse breeding operation.
The lavishness of her lifestyle has been on public display, first as her horses and equipment were auctioned in the summer, and now with online auctions of her personal items. After Crundwell is sentenced, and expenses of liquidating her empire are paid, restitution due the city could reach $7 million to $10 million, which includes money that might accrue from litigation.
Through further studies, officials and financial experts have concluded that Dixon’s cash flow has grown by $3 million since Crundwell was arrested.
Knowing that big bucks are headed for city coffers, some people have shared their ideas for how that money should be spent.
Across the board, the needs of city infrastructure and equipment are great.
However, city leaders should listen to the consultants and accountants whose advice is to hold off on any big capital spending plans until the city’s debts can be paid.
Those debts are significant, according to Paula Meyer, the city’s new finance director.
In 2002, the city had $10.6 million in operating funds.
In 2012, at the time of Crundwell’s arrest, the city’s funds had fallen by more than $30 million; they stood at a negative $19.7 million.
And that money, siphoned off by Crundwell, needs to be repaid.
Consultants suggest the city start by paying back $7 million owed to various funds: motor fuel tax, downtown development, band, cemetery, civil defense, working cash, water, sewer, retirement, and emergency vehicles.
From there, as the city’s normal cash flow further stabilizes, debts in other areas need to be addressed.
That may not be what some people want to hear.
But for the good of city finances, residents need to understand the need for financial restraint.
After all, it was less than 8 months ago that Dixon faced its own “fiscal cliff,” as leaders of cash-strapped city departments talked about laying off employees.
The small-town swindle is over. The financial leak is plugged. The city has pulled back from the brink.
Let patience and prudence continue to be the city’s watchwords as its finances slowly recover.