November 1, 2000

Beginning of the Road

By Dane Sorensen


This morning I woke up to what I swore was the succulent smell of pork being fried. Perhaps some thick cut bacon, or, better yet, Zupís sausage. So I rose out of bed and headed downstairs to see what was for breakfast. Unfortunately, my wife was just reading the front page of the Ely Echo. What I actually smelled was all that pork the politicians were getting ready to feast on. Yes, it is an election year and money seems to be flowing toward anyone who wants it. A top on the list is the Sato deal. The second pork barrel is the school district. The King of Pork is our Sewage Project. Here, they think the goal is to flush over $1,000,000 down a rat hole in ďplanningĒ.

As the owner of three buildings that have been rehabbed without any tax dollars I personally find it offensive to see deals like the Sato Travel pork deal. Sure, I want jobs in Ely. The tenants in my three buildings employ about 50 people. Neither my tenants, nor I have expected or asked for $600,000 in grants for creating jobs. Sato will create about 94 jobs a year for three years. For the first 94 jobs the $600,000 works out to $3.06 an hour, so it shouldnít be too hard for Sato to make the $8.50 an hour wage requirement. Their share is almost less than minimum wage. Letís not forget the $400,000 in remodeling. Now I know why my property taxes are so high. I am subsidizing the remodeling of a building that is one of the newest in town. I am subsidizing a business that is in a building that has not made economic sense from day one. If Ely attracts a couple more dozen Sato deals we will all have to have our taxes doubled. There is no free lunch.

If I had access to that kind of funds I could own half of Ely with the taxpayers footing the bill. Alas, I did not go to the city council as an outsider and promise the moon if they would hand over their VISA cards. No, I moved to Ely. Paid for my buildings with my credit. Did much of the remodeling myself. Made silk purses out of run down buildings and watched my property taxes double in three years. If I had a $400,000 grant, I could afford to pay my taxes for 100 years.

All up and down Main Street I know of businesses that are struggling because of our high property taxes. They are being squeezed by the 20% increases in their property taxes. Their sales canít increase fast enough to absorb these increases. If they raised their prices to keep pace with government spending they would be priced out of the market immediately. So it comes out of their bottom line, leaving them less to live on. Do you know how these businesses feel when they see a company like Sato pull into town and be showered with money? Like chumps!

As long as politicians try to play at business with our tax dollars we are going to see our taxes increase, because their notion of profit is as accurate as former Communist Russiaís 5-Year Plans. When our money is taxed away and wasted on projects like this there is no real increase in the economy. We would be better served if all our local businesses had lower property taxes. We export more tax dollars than we get benefits from. Those dollars would create more jobs if they stayed in town instead of going to St. Paul. The trouble with taking tax dollars away from politicians is it deprives them the opportunity to use gold shovels or cut ribbons. They canít stand that. Without those photo ops they look like they are doing nothing.

Just remember this is the same crowd that is bringing us a sewage plant that is costing almost more to plan than to build. It is the same crowd that allowed the water tower to be painted with lead paint. It is the same mentality that has the school board convinced that higher taxes are the way to solve financial problems. Problems caused by their wasteful spending in the first place. The school has an accounting system that would make a socialist proud. It is backward, secretive, and totally outdated. I loved how they found $80,000 just in time to give management a big raise! This month the school board had enough surplus to buy a $1,000,000.00 Certificate of Deposit. I wish I could say this surplus came from good financial management, but it is really from deception. It is paid for with the high class sizes we now have. It is paid for by telling people there is no money for sports, full time teachers, better technology equipment, and money hiding. We donít need to pass a school levy, we need more accountability.

Luckily, one of the future plans for pork spending will not ever see the light of day. That is the city sales tax. Here is a tax that is desperately looking for a reason to exist. The committee that is working on it for the city, townships and school district canít find a project that will excite the voters to throw their money away. That really bothers them to no end. Eventually, they will piece together a project, show us how most of it will be paid for by somebody else, and then we can give them a reality check by voting it down. We voted it down once before, but politicians donít take no for an answer. They also have short memories.

Someone I highly respect told me that this was the year to not vote for incumbents. This coming from a ďto the grave DemocratĒ is something of a shocker, but I can see the wisdom. On both the school board and the city council we have too many well-seasoned people who have given up thinking outside the box. We need inspiration. I have yet to ever find that coming from the entrenched.

Yes, I am disappointed in the current leadership we have around Ely. I think if we turned over the government to the Ely Garden Club we would get more done. At least they know how to get their hands dirty, pull out the weeds, and actually have something beautiful to look at when they are done.

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