Slusher: Costs of the Fox Lake probe and government's balance sheet
Two very different stories this week have me thinking about the cost of government and what people should know about it.
The most prominent is Wednesday's story detailing the more than $300,000 combined cost covered by 50 jurisdictions that have played some role in the investigation into the death of Fox Lake police Lt. Charles Joseph Gliniewicz. Some online commenters to Tax Watchdog Jake Griffin's story were quick to criticize the crass concept of assigning a monetary value to the investigation of a presumed murder. One commenter called it "a new low." Another hoped that, if he were killed, society would pay "any amount of money" to find his killer.
Other commenters counter that costs at least have to be taken into consideration because they will affect communities' ability to pay for other things. And that fairly well summarizes our point in pursuing such a story.
That we write it is not an indictment of the process. Nor does the fact that it's a lot of money suggest it shouldn't be spent. But it is important that citizens know what their government is costing them. While the pain of this tragedy will never diminish for Gliniewicz's family and friends, in a few months, the very valid emotions that the rest of us are feeling naturally will have waned and we'll be dealing with equally valid emotions about other matters. Relating to government, not the least of these, eventually, will be burdensome costs of police and fire pensions on municipalities. When those who today are complaining of the crass attachment of money to the investigation of an officer's death find their leaders coming to them with requests for a tax increase -- or deep cuts in other services -- to pay for those pensions, will they be as quick to defend the costs of a single investigation?
Perhaps so, and if so, great. They'll be acting based on all the information available to them. But they, and anyone who criticizes cuts to or costs of all government services, must remember the importance of keeping all factors in mind.
Which brings me to staff writer Robert Sanchez's story about the misfortune of Stephen Spratt in Lisle. Spratt got a $3,321 water bill this summer from the village because over the course of 19 years, neither he nor the village had reconciled the difference between the water meter inside his home that accurately measured his water consumption and the remote one outside that estimated it. Who among us cannot sympathize with his plight? And how many of us don't also have to sheepishly identify with his response to the notion that village newsletters had pointed out the importance of reconciling water meters: "I don't know about you, but I don't read newsletters," he told Sanchez.
In many such cases, sympathetic readers naturally visit their ire on the "evil bureaucrats" or "inept governments" that permit such things to happen. Far be it from me to deny the fact of occasional government ineptitude or sometimes even evil intent. But I couldn't help acknowledging that one thing Lisle could have done to prevent a shock like that which Spratt -- and other residents in less eye-popping amounts -- received was to hire people to go to every home and personally compare the remote and indoor water meters, and then I wondered what that expense would have been. Something worth detracting from a police officer's pension? Something that couldn't be afforded because of an unexpected expensive murder investigation?
Individuals have to answer such questions themselves. But they won't be able to if they don't read the newspapers -- and the newsletters -- that ask them.
Jim Slusher, firstname.lastname@example.org, is assistant managing editor for opinion at the Daily Herald. Follow him on Facebook at facebook.com/jim.slusher1 and on Twitter at @JimSlusher.