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items tagged with Rock Island County

Baby Steps for Rock Island County: The Organization Shows Wobbly but Promising Signs of Growth
Written By: Jeff Ignatius
Section: News/Features

Category: Feature Stories

2016-03-03 11:52:16

In a recent interview, Rock Island County Board Chair Ken “Moose” Maranda trotted out an old saying: “County government is only as good as the taxpayers want it to be.” He continued: “And that’s because of statute. Everything has to go to the public.”

Somewhat charmingly, Maranda actually says “statue” when he means “statute,” but his meaning is still clear: Because Rock Island County is not a home-rule government, it’s constricted by state law in ways many municipalities are not. So if it wants property-tax revenue beyond state caps, it has to get approval from voters via referendum.

Much less charmingly, the county-board chair appears to be laying the blame for the county’s financial situation at the feet of voters, who have in recent years defeated several ballot initiatives that would have resulted in increased property-tax burdens.

So the county’s budget situation has deteriorated from a $3-million surplus in Fiscal Year 2004 to a $3.2-million deficit in 2014, according to county audits. County facilities are in urgent need of repair, renovation, or replacement – with an estimated price tag of $15 million beyond a new courthouse.

But voters don’t bear blame here; they’re merely reacting rationally to what they see. It’s not that Rock Island County government is in dire financial straits because voters want it to be. Instead, citizens have been unwilling to reward an ineffective and dysfunctional county board by approving tax hikes.

I think Maranda knows this, and in our discussion last month he described himself as a bridge from the old way of doing things in Rock Island County to what is looking like the new way. “I hope that I was the right person to put in the chair to see that this transition that we’re going through keeps moving forward,” he said. “I hope somebody picks up ... where I leave off.”

Change was already happening before Maranda was elected county-board chair in December 2014. In August of that year, the board voted to hire an administrator – a move that coincided with efforts to push out Chair Phil Banaszek (who ended up retiring in September 2014).

But Maranda’s record on “this transition” is strong – if not likely popular.

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Hope Creek’s Conundrum: Will Taxpayers Agree to Save Rock Island County’s Nursing Home?
Written By: Jeff Ignatius
Section: News/Features

Category: Local News

2013-11-13 16:40:59

The grim math for Hope Creek Care Center is pretty simple. Changing it is not.

Right now, the 245-bed Rock Island County-run nursing home in East Moline is paid $127.48 by the State of Illinois for each Medicaid recipient it houses. The cost to care for each person, said Administrator Trudy Whittington, is $200 a day.

And because by law government-run homes can’t turn away Medicaid recipients, typically more than 60 percent of Hope Creek residents are on the state/federal public-aid program.

So Hope Creek is nearly $4 million in the red each year from that disparity alone, and the current property-tax subsidy for the nursing home doesn’t cover it. And that doesn’t even consider other factors related to state government – such as late reimbursements and delays in approving Medicaid applications.

In that context, Rock Island County officials on October 10 bluntly announced that “after providing an option for the long-term-care needs for residents of our county since 1839 in one capacity or another, the county is looking to divest itself from the nursing-home business due to forces beyond our control that have made that commitment impossible to continue. ... The Rock Island County Board will take official action at their November 19 meeting to explore the potential of leasing or selling Hope Creek Care nursing home.”

That statement brought immediate backlash – by the union representing Hope Creek workers, and by people concerned about the fate of Medicaid recipients who live at Hope Creek or might need to in the future. The county quickly retreated, and County Board Chair Phil Banaszek appointed an ad-hoc committee to look at other options.

Whittington said selling or leasing Hope Creek is Plan D and Plan E at this point – but the county would be remiss if it didn’t do its homework on those alternatives. “We have to start looking at what Hope Creek’s options are,” she said last week. “If we don’t do something, those may become our only options. ... That is ... our last resort.”

The Rock Island County Board could as soon as its November 19 meeting take some sort of action on Hope Creek. The most likely course is approving a referendum question for the November 2014 ballot to raise property taxes in 2015 to further subsidize Hope Creek.

Read More About Hope Creek’S Conundrum: Will Taxpayers Agree To Save Rock Island County’S Nursing Home?...

Maximum Obfuscation: Rock Island County Asks Voters for a Blank Check; You’d Never Know It from the Referendum
Written By: Jeff Ignatius
Section: News/Features

Category: Local News

2013-01-24 14:33:17

If a government body wants to spend tens of millions of dollars for a construction project, there are lots of ways to gauge the public temperature.

It’s hard to imagine a more roundabout approach than the one chosen by the Rock Island County Board.

Last week, the board voted to put a referendum on the April 9 ballot, and if your eyes glaze over while reading it, that might be the goal. The measure asks: “Shall the County Board of The County of Rock Island be authorized to expand the purpose of The Rock Island Public Building Commission, Rock Island County, Illinois to include all the powers and authority prescribed by the Public Building Commission Act?”

Of course, most people don’t know what the Rock Island Public Building Commission is, or that it even existed – let alone its current or potentially expanded authority.

And there’s no way to know from the words what the endgame is. There’s no mention of a new or renovated county courthouse or county office building, or of a location, or of a price tag – which could be anywhere from $13 million (the low estimate for a new court facility alone) to $50 million (the high estimate for a new courthouse and county office building in downtown Rock Island).

In short, the referendum appears designed for maximum obfuscation – a seemingly innocuous question about an obscure public body. The move could easily be interpreted as a deceptive attempt to gain public support for something the public otherwise might not support.

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An End to One-Party Rule? Rock Island County Republicans Put the County Board in Play with “Clean the Slate”
Written By: Jeff Ignatius
Section: Commentary/Politics

Category: Illinois Politics

2012-10-24 17:59:42

It doesn’t take a genius to see through the “Clean the Slate” effort. Its newsletter, promoting 23 candidates for the Rock Island County Board, asks: “Tired of one party controlling all jobs in the county? Unless you are related to or know key people in the county government; your chances of being hired or promoted are unlikely.”

There’s no mention of party affiliation – and no branding by the Rock Island County Republicans – in the newsletter, which notes that it was paid for by the Clean the Slate PAC. On the other hand, its Web site ( includes a photo showing the Rock Island County Republicans logo, and the county-party Web site includes a link to Clean the Slate.

Even if the connections aren’t explicit, Clean the Slate is a pretty naked attempt to recast the county-board election in nonpartisan, good-government terms. Republicans are clearly hoping that common-sense critiques will loosen the grip held on the body by the Democratic party.

Yet you’d be hard-pressed to argue that the initiative doesn’t have valid points. The 25-seat Rock Island County Board presently has four Republican members, and the issue is less philosophical uniformity than organizational comfort. Because most county boards operate with little public or media scrutiny, the absence of oversight or internal opposition can result in their members acting with collective near-impunity. And Clean the Slate has articulated a handful of areas in which the Rock Island County Board needs improvement – from being more flexible with public comment to stopping nepotism to ending the practice of paid absenteeism for board members.

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A Question of Competitiveness: The Cases for and Against the Rock Island County Sales-Tax Referendum
Written By: Jeff Ignatius
Section: News/Features

Category: Local News

2009-03-26 14:21:43

If you paid attention to the Davenport Promise proposal, the arguments in favor of a 1-percent sales tax for school construction in Rock Island County will sound familiar: This is the way we can be competitive with surrounding areas; this is the way to attract and retain residents; this is what we need for the future workforce.

There are three key differences, however: The Rock Island County proposal - which is on the April 7 ballot - is easy to explain and grasp; the vote will be held in a Democratic and union stronghold; and it involves a new tax, rather than shifting an existing one.

The first two factors should work in favor of the referendum, and it will almost certainly get more support than the Promise, which only garnered 39 percent of the vote on March 3.

But the sour economy hasn't put voters in a giving mood. The Illinois General Assembly in 2007 allowed counties to seek a sales-tax increase for school construction; eight of 10 referenda have failed.

The leaders of the Rock Island County Kids First organization - the primary force pushing for the sales-tax increase - said they are concerned about the Promise results, but they also highlighted the differences.


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