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Local Editorials

Distressed Coloma Township needs intervention

Who will intervene in Coloma Township, a distressed government that has lost its way? Elected township officials must shoulder the responsibility, or resign. An awakened public must hold them accountable.

Distressing is a word that describes the situation that Coloma Township residents find themselves in, after recent revelations about their dysfunctional township government.

The Rock Falls-based township’s financial troubles, described in Sauk Valley Media’s series, “Under the Radar: Many townships, little scrutiny,” are numerous.

In office since 1981, Supervisor Debra Burke somehow fell behind in performing her assigned duties as township treasurer.

One of those basic duties is to publish annual financial statements in the newspaper and submit certificates of publication to the county treasurer, who then releases real estate tax dollars to the township.

Burke got behind at least two times. In 2012, the county withheld $410,942 from Coloma Township until Burke turned in certificates that proved she had published 3 years of financial statements. In 2007, township minutes contain discussions about Burke’s additional failure to publish 2 years of financial statements.

Two of the financial statements, for 2009 and 2011, contained significant errors.

In addition, the township has not turned in a financial report to the state comptroller’s office since 2009.

The comptroller’s office has sent a “delinquency invoice” stating that the township, as of last week, owed $13,065 in fines for not submitting the required reports. Those fines grow by the day.

Paying payroll taxes late is a problem for Coloma Township. An audit of the township’s finances had not been completed as of last week. And Burke failed to respond to a Freedom of Information Act request from the township road commissioner, who requested 36 months of township bank statements.

To her credit, Burke has publicly accepted responsibility for the problems. She told the township board last week that she had contacted Matt Howze, supervisor of nearby Sterling Township, about setting up an intergovernmental agreement to provide bookkeeping services. She also offered to pay the comptroller’s fine herself.

We call on other elected Coloma Township officials to work harder to help Burke set things straight. They are township Trustees Peggy McFadden, Gene Jacoby, Mary Ann Richardson, and Walter Neal, Clerk Pamela Erby, Assessor Mary Crebo, and Road Commissioner Ruthie Rogers.

We call on an awakened public to attend meetings and demand improvement.

We also call on Coloma Township to focus anew on its core responsibilities of maintaining roads, assessing properties, and providing assistance to the poor.

No more donating money to community groups, giving $2,000 for a scoreboard, buying monogrammed jackets for township officials, and ordering a plaque to list township officials’ names. Taxpayers do not pay their hard-earned money for such extravagance.

And if township officials brazenly vote to create their own flag, as suggested earlier this year by Trustee Gene Jacoby, we suggest that they hoist it up the flagpole upside down – the international signal for distress.

For Coloma Township truly is a government in distress.

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