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Numbers show NO was right all along
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Dear Editor:

Allow me to respond to a letter from Ruth Lee you published in July 2008.

Lee’s letter claimed, “It’s is no secret that Mr. Arden has been an active leader and spokesperson for the NO organization, an organization that for over the last six to eight years has been against any progressive move in this county. He disavows that relationship now but…”

True, I was the principal organizer and leader of the Neighborhood Organization, but I have never “disavowed” my relationship with NO to anyone.

Furthermore, NO was organized by taxpayers opposed to the county’s plan to build its $45 million water and sewer system. We filed papers with the IRS in 2003 and dissolved NO in 2005. Two years is far from what Lee claims as NO’s “six to eight” year opposition “to any progressive move in the county.”

NO opposed the county’s water and sewer plan. That’s all. This was the only “progressive move” we opposed.

We argued the plan was predicated on the county’s wildly optimistic expectations for growth, that its hasty assumptions were unripe and flawed by the influence of special interests, and that residential re-zonings might create a market “bubble” of excess residential real estate inventory.

We said the plan lacked broad understanding and support by taxpayers.

We asked the county to put this question before the voters in a non-binding referendum. The commissioners refused.

County officials promised, “It won’t cost taxpayers a dime,” and, “Impact fees will cover” the entire cost of the GEFA loans while the county’s newsletter drummed, “Effingham is one of the fastest growing counties in the United States.”

At the commission meeting of Sept. 20, 2005, Ruth Lee and other developers, the Chamber of Commerce and the IDA implored the county to borrow up to $45 million for this water and sewer system in the name of growth and progress.

NO gave each commissioner a 30-page financial analysis which predicted annual losses of $3 to $5 million to be subsidized by taxpayers if the real estate market failed. We tried to tell them the taxpayers were not protected.

With hardly any discussion, the commissioners took the advice of Ruth Lee and her circle of friends. They voted unanimously to borrow up to $45 million from GEFA guaranteed by Effingham taxpayers.

And yet, the real estate market failed and taxpayers are on the hook.

Alas, the chickens came home to roost.

The county’s audits for the years ending June 30, 2006, and 2007 report almost $5 million cash transfers from taxpayer funds to subsidize cash losses in the water and sewer proprietary accounts.

The county’s amended 2008 budget posts subsidies of $4 million, the current 2009 budget appropriates another $4 million and the county staff recently told commissioners they need $2 million to pay accrued interest to GEFA and other payables so they can borrow even more.

These cash subsidies total $15 million today and will probably cost $4 million per year for the next three to five years. Add it up for yourself. This water and sewer system is a cash hungry beast that must be fed.

If Ruth Lee wants to criticize NO then she is obliged to tell us how her liberal support of “progressive moves” wasted millions of dollars, with no end in sight, and without any benefit to the forgotten taxpayers.

NO was right. The facts are the facts.

We told them so.

Frank Arden