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Voters will judge whether officials budgeted wisely

Published: Wednesday, Aug. 7, 2013 1:15 a.m. CDT

Should taxpayers in Rock Falls be upset that their city government spends far more than other Sauk Valley municipalities to send officials to conferences? Not necessarily.

Sometimes, when readers see a big headline – such as “Travel tab higher in Rock Falls than other cities” – on the front page of the newspaper, they assume the accompanying story reports some wrongdoing.

In fact, the report in this past weekend’s edition found no improprieties in the Rock Falls travel budget for its officials. But, for the sake of context, the story did report that Rock Falls’ annual budget for travel is 3 times larger than Sterling’s and 5 times larger than Dixon’s – both cities larger than Rock Falls.

And Rock Falls plans to increase its budget by 33 percent next year.

Plus, both Sterling and Dixon spend more on police training conferences than Rock Falls, whose budget for such seminars and schools is less for police than for city officials.

So what? Well, that’s for Rock Falls taxpayers and voters to determine.

Officials in Rock Falls explained that they found the conferences to be valuable for all involved, especially since the city has to manage its own electricity and water utilities, something that is not a concern for administrators in Dixon and Sterling.

If Rock Falls taxpayers see their city is well managed – that budgets are balanced and services are at least adequate – they might think an extra few thousand dollars a year for training is not excessive when you consider that city council members are paid only $300 a month. Would it look better if the travel budget were reduced to nothing, but city officials’ pay increased to cover convention costs?

A newspaper should routinely report on such issues of public affairs so that citizens are aware of how their local government is administered and how local tax dollars are spent.

Whether officials’ actions are acceptable or not is for those citizens – as voters – to decide.

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