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Don’t Forget the Bond Referenda

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Untitled, 5/4/05, 3:01 PM, 16C, 4562x5914 (645+1571), 100%, Better Push 6, 1/100 s, R66.4, G58.4, B79.9

By Leslee Kulba- Not included in the widely-circulated “Conservative Candidate Sample Ballot” is the part about the bond referenda. One would hope it were because conservatives definitely will not want more government debt for progressive schemes; but seeing how conservatism has shifted from opposing to compromising with failed Marxist policies, the wish is a stretch.

In three separate referenda, the City of Asheville is asking voters to approve $25 million for Affordable Housing projects, $17 million for Parks and Recreation, and $32 million for Streets, Sidewalks, and Bike Lanes. The city’s general fund budget for next year will be $110.7 million, and the current tax rate is 47.5 cents per $100 valuation. The city’s web site handles the PR for this death-by-a-million-cuts scenario:

“If the bonds are approved, the city will have seven years to issue the bonds and approximately twenty years to pay off the bonds after the funds are received. Based on the city’s projected debt capacity, issuing $74 million in general obligation bonds could require a property tax increase of 4.15 cents to retire the debt.

“The upcoming revaluation could affect these estimates slightly, but based on current rates, if approved, the bonds could increase property taxes in the city by about $100 a year, or a little more than $9 per month for a home valued at $275,000.”

The flip-side of the story is, “Would you like to pay less than $1300 a year in taxes? If so, what city projects would you like to cut?”

The three bond referenda categories were chosen in accordance with the results of a citizen survey. Public safety also ranked high on the survey, with 84 percent of respondents rating it either “essential” or “very important.” So, preliminary conversations entertained a Public Safety bond as well, but Mayor Esther Manheimer removed it from consideration, saying she anticipated the public would say they expect so much from the taxes they pay.

Reframing the discussion, one could surmise the city was short on funds, and so it pulled what voters considered the most “essential” and “very important” items out of the budget to optimize odds of getting the referenda approved. Having three referenda gives the city better odds of getting at least some bond money.

61 percent of survey respondents favored investing in improving municipal buildings, so there was also talk about issuing bonds for that; even though food security rated higher. 36 percent of Asheville citizens said food security was an “essential” investment for city government. Another 36 percent rated it “very important.” But the School of Government would not take a food referendum seriously.

Thirty years ago, even public schools spoke of problems with government getting involved in providing essentials like food and housing for the population. It was considered an overreach, the solution of which would have been lowering taxes to increase citizens’ purchasing power.

Unfortunately, food and shelter are no longer considered a personal responsibility. If anything, the federal government has grown the incompetence of people by addicting them to government through school feeding programs and the big push to grow enrollment on food stamps; as well as pushing student loans and mortgages on people with traditionally unqualified incomes.

The federal government has now expanded freebee programs way beyond its ability to pay, with its $19 trillion debt and 78 percent of revenues going toward entitlement programs and interest alone – leaving next to nothing for national defense, welfare programs, debt service, or transportation.

So, the city gets to pick up where the federal government left off. Proposed with the “Housing Affordability” bond is $15,000,000 to “repurpose city-owned land for affordable housing.” Back when people exercised logic, spending $15 million up-front to make housing affordable was stupid. It would be easier to start with some cheap land and discount materials.

Today, government knows better. They persuade developers to build on expensive land and then rent the new units below-market. As they must recoup the losses, actions taken in other cities have included raising rents on other units elsewhere, building at a profit outside the city, or going slack on maintenance.

Another $10,000,000 from the bond will go to the Housing Trust Fund to give low-interest loans to projects that may come on the scene. Government is able to undercut financial institution loans because it is considered a lower risk than the private sector. And that is because, it doesn’t have to deal with the whims of regulators who could jeopardize their lending practices at the touch of a feather.

Parks & Recreation projects include over $4 million each for the Dr. Wesley Grant, Sr. Southside Center and Memorial Stadium. Another $2 million will go toward acquisition of additional parkland. Improvements to ball courts and lighting makes up another large chunk of the proposed referendum spending.

The “Streets, Sidewalks & Bike Lanes” referendum would help the city catch up with its decades-aged backlog of street maintenance and its waiting lists for sidewalks and traffic calming. Of course, the improvements will focus on non-automobile modes in order to shape, instead of serve, public choice. At least the work appears to be going where citizens have been most organized in connecting with government.

For starters, $15,645,000 will go toward road resurfacing. Twenty-one problem roads will be addressed. Haywood Street; Lakeshore Drive; Martin Luther King, Jr. Drive; and State Street will be restriped with bike lanes and sharrows, as has been done on Victoria Road. While it won’t be getting bike lanes, Kenilworth Road will be getting the most dollars, at $1,900,000.

Thirteen sidewalks will be improved with a total of $3,535,000. Here, the big-ticket item is All Souls Crescent. A lot of money will go to side streets off Haywood Road. $6,320,000 will be spent on new sidewalks; $1,372,000 on Johnston Boulevard and $1,120,000 on New Haw Creek Road. A number of other projects will be built in south Asheville.

Only $4,600,000 will go toward greenways. $500,000 will be spent on bus shelters, and a portion of the Pedestrian Safety line item, valued at $1,400,000, will go toward traffic calming projects.

The city says “now is the time” to float bonds, citing community support. The city also wants to take advantage of its AAA bond rating while interest rates are low. The way bond ratings are awarded, it actually helps the city to carry a certain amount of debt. Another reason justifying moving forward with the bonds now is, “The master plans are complete.”

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