When a proposal comes from a school board or a wealthy philanthropist writing a check, there is always a good reason to spend money on an educational initiative. However, when it is a member of a fiscal oversight body making a pitch about a “passion project” of his to his colleagues, there is something wrong.
The old adage: “Never let a fox guard the hen house” has never been more applicable than in this case.
On May 5, Hamilton County Councilor Ken Alexander (from District 4, which is West Carmel, Westfield and Sheridan) made a presentation to the rest of the Hamilton County Council in which he advocated the County spending between $450,000 to $800,000 to fund a staff position to create a Career Training Center in Hamilton County.
While this is a wonderful project to consider establishing in Hamilton County, the first question that should be at the start of the conversation is: Why involve Hamilton County government?
The justification is couched in such warm and fuzzy words such as: “efficiency, cooperative, collaborative, transformational and multi-jurisdictional” … but make no mistake, the only REAL reason is that Hamilton County has tens of millions of your tax dollars in reserves!
All the school superintendents are on board and why not? Their school boards are occupied with dealing with serious fiscal issues stemming from the pandemic, hiring new superintendents and a new focus on various topics such as critical race theory and social emotional learning!
Some of the state’s most affluent school systems are right here in Hamilton County and THEY don’t have the money to fund a Career Training Center? But they are very receptive to having Hamilton County government fund a new staff position that will be responsible for searching for federal grants, doing market research to identify the need for this new endeavor (but it is so desperately needed) and for “alignment and enrollment.”
Alignment with whom? How can enrollment for vocational programs be projected when school hasn’t been “normal” for over a year?
During his unprecedented presentation, Councilor Alexander stated the cost would be $425,000 spread over two and a half years; in his printed material representing the project, the cost is described as $425,000 and in his written column of May 12, he stated the cost would be less than $800,000 for the same period.
A very fluid project budget, right?
Over 16 years ago, I was on the Hamilton County Council and protested the award pf $400,000 to a well intentioned private organization’s effort to establish a center of higher learning in Hamilton County: the group received only the initial $200,000, which was used for market research and to scout the County for land feasible for the project. Since there wasn’t a need or demand, the remaining $200,000 was never allocated.
Now it seems history is about to be repeated, albeit at a higher cost.
The Council that took office in January 2021 is NOT the same Council that has practiced fiscal restraint and control of Commissioner spending the last six years.
I urge citizens, voters and taxpayers who are concerned about the new direction this Council is headed to contact both Council members AND County Commissioners. Their email addresses and phone numbers can be found here.
This may only be the beginning of new social spending projects initiated or supported by the new majority on the Hamilton County Council. Citizens need to remain vigilant and ask their Hamilton County elected officials to reject approval of funding for this project.
Keep this project in the schools, where it rightfully belongs.
Council members should NOT be originators of spending: they are to protect the treasury, not drain it. They need to know their role and follow that role.