CAMBRIDGE—At the January 2009 board meeting, the Henry County Board approved a referendum to increase the sales tax by 1/4 of 1 percent to pay for the Henry County Courthouse repairs. There was only one negative vote regarding this referendum — that vote was mine.


At the January 2009 board meeting, the Henry County Board approved a referendum to increase the sales tax by 1/4 of 1 percent to pay for the Henry County Courthouse repairs. There was only one negative vote regarding this referendum — that vote was mine.

In response to a letter submitted by the other board members, I?want to give you, the citizens of Henry County, my reasons for casting the only negative vote on this referendum. The referendum will be placed before the voters on April 7.

In their letter, they state, “The referendum is to increase the sales tax by 1/4 of 1 percent ($.25 for every $100 spent). The revenue generated from this sales tax increase will be put in a restricted fund to pay for restoration of the Henry County Courthouse.”

If the measure is approved by the voters, the revenue will not be put into a restricted fund that will accumulate and eventually pay for repairs as the letter implies.

If you, the voter, approve this measure, you will not only give the county board authority to impose the sales tax increase, you will give the board authorization to sell $2.5 million in bonds to actually pay for the restoration.

The intent of the 1/4 percent sales tax increase is to retire or pay off the bonds. Adding the interest and fees for the sale of the bonds, the actual debt will be closer to $6 million.

The administration committee — the initiator of this referendum — says the 1/4 percent will safely pay for the bonds, broker fees and interest. 

They base their projections on prior history of monies collected by local sales taxes. However, as Geneseo has painfully discovered, projected revenues do not always happen. Geneseo has a shortfall in its current budget of $200,000 because actual receipts of sales tax revenues did not match their projections. Consequently, the city of Geneseo has also put a 1/2 percent sales tax referendum on the April ballot to pay for their shortfall.

Last?November, the county board placed a 1/2 percent sales tax referendum on the general election ballot. The purpose of that sales tax referendum was for “public safety,”?and the referendum was rejected by the voters.

The demise of the courthouse was not even on the radar screen at that time.?It was not the intent of that proposed sales tax to make any improvements on the courthouse. Now, three months later, the courthouse repairs have “top priority.”

I do not suggest we let the courthouse fall apart. However, if it is in such a deplorable condition of disrepair, why didn’t we start making annual maintenance repairs a year ago?

I suggest a time-honored “pay as you go” plan. We currently have $240,000 in the restricted building fund. We also have a $3.7 million balance in the general fund and part of that money could be used for repairs.

The initial intent of the administration committee was to use the restricted fund money to rip out part of the Cambridge Park and build a parking lot. 

At the December board meeting, I made a motion to put the parking lot project on hold and use the restricted fund money for repairs on the courthouse. The motion was defeated in a 10/10 vote tie.

Ten Democratic board members voted against the motion. Three of the ten members who voted against my motion — Jesse Crouch, Ted Sturtevant and John Sovanski — are members of the administration committee, the initiators of the current courthouse referendum.

Tom Nicholson, the chairman of the board, also voted against my motion. Their vote implied while the courthouse repairs might be important, the proposed parking lot was more important.

Fortunately, because of extenuating circumstances, the parking lot project is now on hold, so the $240,000 is still available for courthouse repairs. Four Democratic members of the board — Jim King,?Jan May, Ann DeSmith and Betty Murphy — had the courage of their convictions to vote for my motions.

As many states, including our own, have learned, it is easy to borrow money and incur debt. However, in times such as we have now, perhaps the worst recession since the Great Depression, it is difficult, and sometimes impossible, to get out of debt.

We should not incur a $6 million liability at this time. Eight percent of our citizens are out of work and many are on fixed incomes. Let’s not add to their burdens.

Bill Preston, Henry County Board Member