Bonding—a form of financial borrowing—has always been a controversial topic in Harrison.
There are those in town who believe we should avoid bonding like the plague, saying it burdens the town with debt and interest payments for projects that we simply can't afford. The opposing line of thought is that we can't afford not to move forward with town improvements and that bonding is a necessary form of cash-flow management.
Regardless of your position, the initial issue has to be setting spending priorities before considering the means for funding them; or whether we can afford to fund them at all.
I am concerned that the council’s current attitude toward bonding is "putting the cart before the horse" by discussing lending options for projects rather than first discussing our comprehensive spending priorities and our long-term financial payment capability.
It is easy to create urgency and justification for nearly every spending project. But the real urgency and justification for a project only shows itself when the project is put in relative consideration with all other spending projects foreseeable in the near future. A review of the total budget should be available to spend on all those projects as a cumulative total.
This discussion of a total, long-term, spending ceiling and then priorities within that budget ceiling is what I feel is missing from current town board discussions and it is an omission that should be giving us serious pause for concern.
Where is there a written list of every town project likely to be up for consideration in the next 24 to 36 months? And even more importantly, where is the calculation of how much more—if any—additional debt we as a town can reasonably manage?
While the administration may argue that these lists and calculations are laid out in the annual town budget, this is clearly not the case. We would not have had to in bonding last month, only to in early June.
None of us have seen calculations of how much more debt our town can realistically manage and still keep taxes at reasonable levels with a safe level of emergency funding in the general town fund.
And when both those planning tools are considered my concern is that the projects recently approved would not make top priority projects for the majority of residents.
The bonds cover the following projects: $240,000 for a street sweeper, $50,000 for a dump truck, $300,000 for a side-loading garbage truck, $92,000 for a police operations center and $400,000 for drainage improvements, among other things.
After speaking with residents across town on an ongoing basis, I believe few would fight money being spent to prevent flooding. I do, however, doubt that the majority of residents would feel the amounts proposed for sanitation equipment and the new police operation center would rank as top spending priorities.
The famous philosopher Santayana said; “Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it.”
I am not opposed to the concept of bonding as a whole. But previous bonding in town was key in adding to our recent financial crisis; we need to learn from that and put the right steps in place before rushing to do it all over again.