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Stunning restitution for a stunning theft

Fresh off the news that the city will receive $40 million in restitution from the Crundwell scandal, Dixon officials are wise to ask the public for input on what to do with the money.

Published: Friday, Sept. 27, 2013 1:15 a.m. CDT

Dixon residents were stunned last year by the scope of ex-Comptroller Rita Crundwell’s $53 million embezzlement.

The same residents likely were also stunned Wednesday to hear that the city would recoup $40 million in an out-of-court settlement with two accounting firms and a bank.

$40 million!

We’ll take that second dose of stunning news over the first, any day.

The players in the Crundwell scandal are well known. So are the details of the litigation in which the city sued outside entities who held city money in bank accounts and who audited the stewardship of said money.

In a statement, Mayor Jim Burke said the $40 million would be added to an estimated $10 million recovered by federal prosecutors and investigators from Crundwell’s assets, for a total of $50 million.

But, roughly $10 million in expenses were incurred, which leaves the city with a final total of about $40 million.

Not bad. Not bad at all.

What’s next?

Burke said the city would schedule a meeting in the first week of October. Finance Director Paula Meyer and others will discuss the settlement’s impact on city finances.

The public is invited to attend, Burke said, to listen, ask questions, and make comments.

“The residents and taxpayers are the real stakeholders to be impacted by the decisions to be made by the Dixon City Council,” Burke wrote in a statement.

Indeed.

The residents and taxpayers are the ones whose money was stolen.

The residents and taxpayers are the ones who endured deprivation when infrastructure projects could not be undertaken because of Crundwell’s 20-year-long thievery.

The residents and taxpayers are the ones who felt shame for being hoodwinked by someone they trusted.

So, whatever city leaders decide to do with that $40 million, they must put the best interests of the residents and taxpayers first.

What could be done to directly benefit all those residents and taxpayers?

Many things. Here’s one possibility.

The city sewer fund is in debt to the tune of $9,720,770. Perhaps the city could repay enough of that debt so that sewer bills could be reduced for all city residents.

The individual savings might not be huge, but at least everyone would get a break.

Mayor Burke and city leaders deserve credit for recovering a lot more money than many people expected.

When the scandal broke in April 2012, we encouraged that hometown boy Ronald Reagan’s famous phrase, “Trust, but verify,” be replaced by three other words: Prosecution, restitution, prevention.

Crundwell has been prosecuted and sits in a Minnesota federal prison.

New safeguards and personnel are in place to prevent future thefts.

Restitution? Well, $40 million, after expenses, is no small chunk of change.

Let the city spend some of it wisely, to the benefit of all residents and taxpayers, and save the rest for a rainy day.

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