County leaders hear opposition to Horizon project
Posted: 09/08/2012 at 6:25 pm
By: Angelle Barbazon
The discussion was prompted by the Horizon Education Alliance’s plans to ask the Elkhart County Council later this month to cover up to $64,000 in benefits for two of the organization’s employees for 16 months. Horizon formed in January to unite businesses, public schools, nonprofit groups and hospitals to provide education programs that span from early childhood to adulthood.
“What happens when this program gets fleshed out and they need more money?” asked Peter Recchio, cofounder of the Tea Party of Michiana Action Coalition. “Where do they go? Do they go back to us again? Do they go back to old Pete and ask me to kick in again? Where does it stop?”
County commissioner Mike Yoder, who serves as Horizon’s local government liaison, said funding for the benefits of the two Horizon employees would come from the county’s environmental special projects account, not taxes. The account, he said, includes money generated from the county’s landfill. No other projects are slated to use the funds, Yoder added. Salaries, he said, would be furnished by grants and business partnerships through Horizon.
Recchio said he agrees that education opportunities are important, but they should not be an extra expense for the county’s taxpayers.
“I was educated in the Elkhart school system, and I’m grateful for that,” he told council members Saturday. “I have many children and currently grandchildren that are being educated here, and I’m grateful for that too. But the state already spends almost 48 percent of its budget on education and here we’re taxing in addition to that. Well, that’s not what the public wants.”
Council president John Letherman assured Recchio that local leaders would not take Horizon’s request lightly.
“Nobody wants to spend more money on taxes — nobody,” Letherman said. “But we’ve got some problems and somehow we’ve got to fix it.”
Recchio said he wants to see a blueprint for Horizon’s plans to improve education in Elkhart County.
“There are a thousand questions that are not answered yet, and we are already spending money for that,” he said. “No bank, no place in the United States of America would say ‘yes’ to an incomplete plan. I pray that you use the same common sense.”
Horizon committee chairman Brian Smith and executive director Brian Wiebe are scheduled to make a presentation Sept. 28 to the Elkhart County Council. At that meeting, they will ask for county support and explain how Horizon plans to transform the landscape of education in Elkhart County.