I’ve spent a good deal of my time this year criticizing our governing body’s debt spending because I’m deeply concerned that we’re digging ourselves into a hole we’re not going to be able to get out of.
We’ve increased our gross debt by about $15 million from the end of 2014 to nearly $61.5 million, meaning our debt is approaching twice that of our annual budget. Spending in this way is unsustainable and incredibly unwise.
Public safety doesn’t exist in a bubble. Keeping our residents safe is a balancing act requiring the management of a variety of departments—not just the traditional ones we all think of. So when I criticize the spending of a single project, I do so because I believe that the decisions of the governing body to place such a debt burden on our residents actually reduces our residents’ safety and security. Legally, we can only carry so much debt and as a larger chunk of our budget is dedicated to paying off debt, the more pressure is placed on our ability to spend wisely to keep us safe.
I’m worried we’re approaching a fiscal crisis. Our credit rating agency already warned us this year that we were beginning to take on too much debt, and that was before the weight of this year’s debt. We’re now talking about costs exceeding $16 million if we decide to enter into the USDA loan program for the firehouse ($12+ million if not). When this whole thing started, we were talking about $3.5 million. The governing body likes to say that everything in this project is necessary. But when I see lists that include $650 desks and $300 chairs, it’s hard to believe our governing body in good faith.
I’ve supported the firehouse project since the beginning but I’ve been very critical of the spending, because every dollar spent here is a dollar and change (there’s interest on debt) that we can’t dedicate to repairing our aging infrastructure and ensuring our residents are kept safe. That’s something worth worrying about.