Pay attention to finance plan

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New taxing mechanism deserves close look from stakeholders.

THIS REQUIRES SOME delicate balance, because it is not our purpose to say a pending financial plan under consideration by the School District of Beloit is a bad thing.

It may be a bad thing.

Or it may be a good thing.

Or it may be somewhere between.

We're not sure.

But we are certain local property tax-payers should be taking notice.

IT'S CALLED A "FUND 80," as reported on last week by the Beloit Daily News. A key element is that a Fund 80 set-up, allowed under state guidelines, can be collected and operated outside the normal revenue limits intended to restrict property tax increases.

Fund 80 tax collections are supposed to pay for programs outside the normal classroom experience and provide benefits - sometimes direct benefits - to the community in a larger sense.

For example, there has been mention of services such as daycare for the youngest kids, after-school care for students, additional educational opportunities for students, services and support for seniors, and so forth. Initially, a figure of $400,000 was stated but apparently is no longer the operating assumption.

Now, district officials say it's too early to talk about exactly how much money might be collected from taxpayers or specifically what purposes it might be used to pay for.

The priority seems to be establishing a local Fund 80, details to come.

AND HERE LET'S go back to the delicate balancing act. We haven't heard anything yet that sounds like a deal-breaker, and the new administration deserves the benefit of the doubt while it puts flesh on the bones of the plan.

On the other hand, citizens would do well to pay attention and be wary of new financing measures that slip the bonds of Wisconsin's revenue limits and permit government decision-makers to take more money from people's pockets.

These things have a way over time of functioning like the proverbial camel's nose working itself under the tent. A little at a time, as budget cycles go by, the camel nudges closer until its whole body is inside the tent and, in this case, budget creep follows.

In an annual budget near $100 million another half million or so - again, the number is not yet known - may not amount to much. But everybody needs to fully understand the process and remain vigilant. This is new. It's your money, directly out of your pocket. Pay attention.

A FINAL WORD: On the topic of daycare, and perhaps other ideas that might be floated with a Fund 80, some consideration is due for separating the public and private sector. Conservative principles have long held that government should be hesitant to tax and perform tasks that already are being done by private sector enterprises, or that could be done that way. On the other hand, private daycare can be prohibitively expensive and beyond the means of many people. If the district goes the daycare direction, sorting out where the public and private meet and perhaps complement each other will be important. Again, citizens, pay attention.

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