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Money better spent at home

The $11,884 spent by Rock Falls officials at the Illinois Municipal League convention last fall in downtown Chicago would have been better spent at home.

Published: Thursday, Jan. 30, 2014 1:15 a.m. CST

Last week, the city of Rock Falls submitted an application for a $200,000 federal Environmental Protection Agency grant.

If awarded, the money would help rid the city of an environmental eyesore along its riverfront – the ancient Limestone Building, which dates to 1867, the city’s first year.

The grant would help pay to assess the property (solvents, paints and lubricants were once used there); plan the cleanup; identify and monitor the danger to at-risk segments of the population; do outreach to the community; and implement the program.

Spent over a 3-year period, the $200,000 grant could give the city a leg up on the total cost of the Limestone Building removal project, estimated at $600,000.

We see this as a worthwhile project. The expenditure of public funds would benefit the community as a whole. The result could spark future development along the Rock River.

We wish the city good luck as its application wends its way through the federal bureaucracy. If the money is awarded, we have every hope that it will be spent wisely.

We wish we could say the same about the city’s practice of spending large amounts of tax dollars during the annual convention of the Illinois Municipal League.

Last fall, the city sent six officials to the 3-day meeting, held at the Hilton in downtown Chicago.

For lodging, food, and other expenses at the conference, Rock Falls taxpayers were billed $11,884. 

Some of the money – $783 – was spent at one big dinner for the six officials and their spouses, where they dined on, among other entrées, Alaskan king crab, Chilean sea bass, and stone crab colossal.

By comparison, Dixon and Sterling, which are larger than Rock Falls but which do not operate city electrical departments, spent $4,163 and $2,173, respectively.

Rock Falls sent good-sized delegations to previous Municipal League conventions, too.

In October 2012, the city sent nine officials to the conference. The hotel bill was $8,384.

Three years earlier, in 2009, the city sent 10 officials. The Hilton hotel tab that year was $8,779.

Rock Falls officials say they return with useful information that can be put toward a more efficient operation of the city.

No doubt, the seminars have some value.

But $11,884 worth?

Especially in an economy that has yet to recover from the Great Recession?

We don’t think so.

For the record, $11,884, compared to the $200,000 EPA assessment grant, represents nearly 6 percent of the total.

Putting that money toward the Limestone Building project would have been a better use.

Or, use it to fill potholes, repair sidewalks, and pay for snow removal.

Officials apparently look at the Municipal League convention as a perk that they are entitled to. We don’t accept that rationale. We doubt the taxpayers do, either.

Next fall, let Rock Falls officials resist the allure of city lights and fancy restaurants and keep those tax dollars at home.

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