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OPINION

The County Line: Polk County doesn't have a partisan politics problem

Submitted by Warren Strandell
Crookston Times

    Have you ever Googled the U.S. national debt?

    Try it some time. Go to the clock option to see how it grows second by second. Last time I looked the total debt was something over $27 trillion, which amounts to over $81,000 for each citizen or more than $216,000 for each taxpayer.

    The reason I went to that site recently was that I have seen nothing from either side in the presidential election campaign say anything about the debt… absolutely nothing. The two sides just ignore it. All of Washington ignores it except when they have to approve taking on more debt to keep all of the programs and spending going.

    There were times in years past when some at the top level of our government promoted the passage of a balanced budget bill. That idea never had the support needed for approval, which would have changed a lot of things in government.

    I don’t see an answer to the situation in Washington but being the financially conservative person that I am (or change that to the realist that I am), I can’t ignore the debt problem like Washington does.

    A related question might be this: What is the basis of our monetary system? Is it nothing more than some really big numbers on a piece of paper?

    Recently, I saw this among the emails that cross my computer:

    In 1887, Alexander Tyler, a Scottish history professor at the University of Edinburgh, had this to say about the fall of the Athenian Republic some 200 years prior: “A democracy is always temporary in nature; it simply cannot exist as a permanent form of government. A democracy will continue to exist up until the time that voters discover that they can vote themselves generous gifts from the public treasury. From that moment on the majority always votes for the candidates who promise the most benefits from the public treasury with the result every democracy will finally collapse over loose fiscal policy, (which is) always followed by a dictatorship.”

    From this demagoguery — if that word is applicable — comes my feeling for how things are with Polk County’s finances.  In short, it’s pretty darn good. The debt the county has was headlined by the $17.5 million in bonds that were sold in 2005 to finance construction of the Northwest Regional Corrections Center jail. Those bonds will be paid off on Feb. 1, 2026… or in just over five years. This will end the practice of having to collect $1.2 million a year in property taxes to make the payments on these bonds.

    Also to be paid off at about the same time (in 2026) will be the $3 million in bonds sold in 2015 on a 10-year repayment plan that financed the conversion of the old jail space in the Law Enforcement Center for use by the Sheriff’s Department and for a highly needed new Dispatch Center. Also provided by that bond issue was the development of unused space in the Polk County Justice Center for the County Attorney’s Office and for the relocation of Polk County Public Health from rented space to the Justice Center.

    In just over five years when those two bond issues are retired— the $17.5 million for the jail and the $3 million for the office relocations — the only debt that the county will have left will be the final five years of the $3 million in bonds that were sold in January 2020 to finance remodeling of the Human Service Center in East Grand Forks.

    So, in just over five years Polk County will have very little debt on the books. Its buildings and equipment are in good shape. There will always be a roof that needs to be replaced, some equipment that needs updating, etc., but there are no major projects in the works. And the county has good reserves.

    It sure would be good if my country was in the same shape. Maybe the problem has been the politics that affects things in Washington, and in some states, too.

    Polk County doesn’t have a partisan politics problem.

    Thoughts expressed in this column are those of the author and are not necessarily a reflection of the opinions of the other members of the Polk County Board.