Don't go chasing waterfalls, especially in Lake County.

It's liable to lead to waves of taxpayer aggravation.

The county of Lake isn't exactly known for picturesque waterfalls, but there's one in particular that may soon have your attention.

I accidentally stumbled upon said waterfall in a most unlikely location.

Down the hill and concealed somewhat to the side of the Lake County Government Center in Crown Point was an attractive — albeit man-made — waterfall sculpted into the slope heading into a retention pond.

A faint trickle from the falls happened to catch my eye as I approached the government center's main entrance for an interview.

"Wow, when did that get there?" I initially thought to myself.

The Times' Lake County government reporter would later tell me the waterfall was installed last year as part of a "beautification" project.

I only choked on a little of my Coke Zero at the prospect of trying to beautify one of the least attractive buildings in Lake County.

"How much did that waterfall cost," I wondered out loud, recovered from the momentary carbonated aspiration.

And the next question?

"Why in the world did they build something like that, where no one can see it, at the base of the county's stark rust bucket?"

The Lake County Government center is a rusty hulk of a metal exoskeleton building from the 1970s, and it's anything but pleasant to behold.

The waterfall, mostly out of the direct line of sight to anyone entering the building, is like a really bad attempt at trying to beautify a pig with lipstick.

A county finance official helped answer my question pertaining to cost last week.

County commissioners authorized spending $168,672 in 2016 for a landscaper to install the waterfall and to have some silt dredged from the connected retention pond.

Lake County Surveyor Bill Emerson also provided an invoice showing $20,411.90 in stormwater drainage funds were used in excavating, manhole and drainpipe repair and other related expenses.

To be sure, the waterfall money represented a drop in the retention pond of a $100 million annual Lake County government general fund.

But to most taxpayers, that's not really the point.

The Lake County Council recently gave preliminary approval to take on $12 million in new debt. This would help continue removing asbestos, installing security and modernizing the four-decade-old Lake County Government Center.

It's a perennial cycle for county government to borrow in such amounts, continuously running up the taxpayers' credit card.

The county's debt exceeds $120.6 million and will cost taxpayers $17 million this year alone in principal and interest, the council's financial director recently told us.

How many waterfalls and other frills could have been cut from county spending over the years to lessen the amount our officials borrow?

Mike Repay, president of the Lake County commissioners, acknowledged last week the waterfall was an unnecessary expenditure — an example of what's wrong with county spending.

He said he didn't favor the waterfall but was outvoted last year.

Lake County officials are legendary for their patronage army of politically tied government employees. Instead of a waterfall, $168,672 could have funded several full-time, and even more part-time, workers at the government center.

Far more appropriately, it could have represented $168,672 in money that didn't later need to be borrowed for funding county expenses.

Even if they wish to shrug off notions of fiscal stewardship, our county officials at least could have spent the money on more noticeable beautification.

Most would agree such beautification projects are unnecessary frills, however, particularly when the county must borrow $10 million or more, year after year.

It all trickles down to an issue of credibility.

Chasing waterfalls, or rather building unnecessary ones at taxpayer expense, continues selling the notion of fiscal stewardship down the river.

Editorial Page Editor Marc Chase can be reached at (219) 662-5330 or marc.chase@nwi.com. Follow him on Facebook at www.facebook.com/marc.chase.9 or Twitter @nwi_MarcChase. The opinions are the writer's.

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Marc is a veteran investigative reporter and editor of more than 15 years, including 10 years at The Times, where he is the investigative editor. He is also the founder of the Calumet Region Civil War Preservation Project.