In a couple of weeks, my town will be having elections for the city council, mayor and school board. Last night our Chamber of Commerce hosted a “meet your candidates” session for the city council, mayor and the local school board. It had been some time since I went to one of these events. I didn’t really have a dog in this race. My ward councilman is unopposed.
I no longer have school age children. My daughter is grown and her three kids live in another county. They also attend a private school to boot. I admit I haven’t paid much attention to local board issues—other than the sea of red ink glowing over the horizon.
The host presented three questions to the council candidates and mayoral candidates. The questions ranged from TIF, to Services vs. Taxes, to a city community center. The nature of the council over the last several years, said one candidate, has significantly tilted toward fiscal conservatism. State law requires an emergency fund equal to 20% of the city’s budget. Our city has gone past that and has a 40% pad. In short, our town is revenue rich.
A spending junkie’s paradise.
The tone of the responses started with the first candidate Jeff Cox who is running unopposed. Concerning TIF, he presented a short review of current activities and the need to be very judicial when determining when TIF would be appropriate and when it wouldn’t. Any long-term gains from made from agreeing to a TIF project must be balanced with the short-term cost. Most important to TIF is the determination if there will be a long-term gain. The other candidates, who also expressed conservative viewpoints, agreed with that opening to the discussion.
The problem I had was that all the candidates were, or wanted to appear to be, fiscal conservatives. I’m a bit skeptical that every candidate would agree to a conservative philosophy. That appearance pegs the needle on my Skeptic’s meter. I will applaud if I’m wrong because it portents a strong future for our city.
Another question pertained to the creation of a city community center. Our sister-city three miles down the road built a fitness-type center a number of years ago costing in the neighborhood of $28 Million dollars. One candidate said the center was paying for itself after three years of operation. That’s good. The down side in the initial outlay by the city.
Frankly, we aren’t as large as our sister city. We cannot approve such a grand project without going heavily in debt—revenue surplus or not. As I listened I became aware I was witnessing an example of spending addiction. We have a surplus in the city coffers. Some people in the community have a tendency to, “see a dollar, spend two dollars.”
The driver for the community center is the closing of the community room in city hall. The room will be ceded to the police department. The department as added three new officers and they need the room. The search now is for a facility to replace that community room.
As an aside, I note that the neighboring Mazuma Credit Union has a room available free to the public and it is approximately the same size as the community room in city hall. Perhaps people wanting to use the city hall room could, temporarily, be directed to Mazuma?
There are always options available if people would use them. Personally, I think the city does need a community center…a limited one…when we can afford it. We don’t need a full-blown fitness center with a workout room, indoor pool, basket ball court and more. For the size of our city, that would be a waste. There are options available. At a personal cost.
If a fitness center is the desire, we have one only a couple hundred yards from city hall. It’s open to all—for a fee. You see, it’s a business, not a city owned facility.
Ah, that’s the kicker. It’s always more attractive to have someone else pay or provide a subsidy instead of personally taking the funds from your own pocket.
From the responses, I doubt we’ll go into debt for a community center. Yes, doing some pre-planning, scope and cost reviews is appropriate. Perhaps, too, we could set aside some small funds to pay for a knowledgeable consultant. But going beyond that, with our current economy, is not needed and frankly would be fiscally foolish.
As I said, I don’t have kids in the local schools. I’m not that knowledgeable about their situation. I do note that several years ago the district was fully funded and had a nice reserve. Then they built a new stadium with those reserves and now they’re in trouble. Another example of spending addiction? Perhaps. I did note that not a single board candidate disavowed a tax increase as a solution to their problems.
The last time, a couple of years ago, they attempted to pass a levy increase, the effort failed miserably. I don’t think public sentiment has changed since then. I would strongly suggest the new board research other alternatives to their budget woes than assuming a tax increase can be passed.
All in all, it was an informative session. The politicos had a opportunity to meet the public and put on record their views to questions. I noted several candidates, when asked hard questions, talked a lot but said little. I’m sure I’m not the only one to notice.