October 1, 2013

Four quarters makes a dollar. So does 10 dimes.

But not all government spending is equal.

One of the more distressing dynamics I've seen at work around here is this business is broad-brushing of all government spending as evil.

Following a federal dollar is like jumping in a rabbit hole. Understanding a state dollar, how it gets from your pocket through the Legislature and to its final destination, can be as challenging as the physics of planets orbiting distant stars.

But our money in the City of Carroll? We can follow it, control it, and largely make sure it goes where it does the most good. So local spending is different. You should think of it that way.

It is not inconsistent at all to hate the federal debt of $17 trillion and support local projects.

Carroll is not Des Moines or Washington, D.C. Former Mayor Ed Smith had a brilliant way of making this point.

One figure we all should be watching is our general-obligation-bond debt - financing we've used for the fire station and Carroll Family Aquatic Center and a new roof at the Rec Center and the purchase of some emergency vehicles.

In fiscal year, 2016-2017, the City of Carroll will be at just 6 percent of its $32-million debt limit. We have just the pool project on the books. That's really it. Debt with other general-obligation-bond funded public-works projects will have expired.

In fact, in fiscal year 2016-2017, the city will levy for zero debt-service dollars through property taxes. As it stands, 25 percent of the roughly $1.3 million in annual local-option sales-tax revenues - or $342,000 - goes to property-tax relief. That covers the $190,000 to $200,000 we are paying each year on the pool. And then some.

Which presents a great opportunity to move our community forward.

Bonding, and taking advantage of favorable interest rates, is the way Carroll builds its infrastructure for future generations.

We have a responsibility to maintain existing facilities and further develop our community's offerings. That's what past generations did for us. The numbers as they stand draw into sharp doubt whether we are holding up our end of the social contract with our forefathers.

The City of Carroll is not a human being. Were it such, yes, it would be wise to eliminate all debt as one ages, paying off cars and college loans and eventually the mortgage, saving for retirement, and God forbid, medical calamities. Most of us would like to have something meaningful to pass on to heirs.

But the city is a perpetual entity - not a person with a mortal ticking clock. Carroll won't die like Coalwood, the mining town in the movie "October Sky."

At least I'm betting big on Carroll being around for centuries.

The next council must consider how to incorporate responsible borrowing and bonding into getting some projects completed in our city.

It's the responsible course, the common-sense move.

In investing the money, remember, we're still keeping our dollars close.