Two years ago Minot area voters approved a half-cent sales tax to fund an expansion of the county jail. The tax was set to run until 2020, or whenever the $39 million for the expansion was paid off.
It seemed like a reasonable thing. Minot is one of the many North Dakota communities seeing rapid population growth. More people mean more government infrastructure is needed, including a jail.
But now it turns out that the original estimate for the cost of the jail was “grossly underestimated.” Officials are going to ask voters to approve more spending on the November ballot, according to the Associated Press.
And that’s pretty convenient, isn’t it? Low ball the initial cost, move forward with the project and then – whoops! – it’s going to cost a whole lot more. Taxpayers are stuck choosing between a half-finished project or more spending and a longer term for the sales tax.
Obviously, the voters will pretty much have to authorize the additional spending (the AP reports that there’s no new estimate available yet), but shouldn’t someone be held accountable for the initial low estimate?
This sort of thing really puts the taxpayers in a bad situation, and it happens more often than people would like to admit. The voters approve a budget for a project, the project goes far beyond the budget, and the taxpayers are stuck eating it because what are they going to do? Tear down a half-built project out of spite, leaving a legitimate need unfulfilled?
Mistakes happen, but is this a mistake? Or is this sort of thing calculated to get the taxpayers on the hook for an expense they might not have approved?
There needs to be some sort of accountability in these projects. Maybe companies that have budget overruns beyond a certain percentage should have to eat those costs. Or maybe the city officials who approve these estimates should be fired when they turn out to be wildly inaccurate.