EDITOR’S NOTE: In a municipal election marked by exceptionally divisive language and increasingly irresponsible attacks, the actual issues facing Columbus have often been lost. Each day this week, The Dispatch will present an editorial exploring the issues most often cited by readers and candidates. Many of these issues are the same for all Golden Triangle municipalities. Please make plans to vote June 8.
Some campaign issues are elusive to quantify and difficult to grasp.
Infrastructure is not one of them. All that is required is to look out your window or drive through the streets of Columbus.
If you want to gauge the health of a city, the condition of its roadways are almost always a telling sign.
Columbus elected officials regularly get an earful about street conditions from citizens, so it’s not an issue they can afford to long ignore.
What has been ignored or at least not addressed, is a consistent working plan to maintain and finance the street paving.
For the past decade, the city appears to act only when street conditions reach a critical state of disrepair. Four times since 2010 the city has issued bonds (often with tax increases), to cover the cost of paving projects — $3.8 million in 2010, $4.5 million in 2014, $5 million in 2016 and, most recently, $6.5 million last June, which will be funded by an annual 1 mil property tax increase over three years. Of the city’s $40 million in debt, half of it is for infrastructure.
None of the paving projects have addressed all roads that need repaving, and the method we use to pay for the repaving will eventually spiral out of control.
As we have pointed out numerous times in editorials, the average life of a paving project is seven years we are told, yet the paving is financed as long as 20 years. This isn’t sustainable.
It’s worth noting that Columbus is not the only local government that issues bonds to cover paving projects. But, unlike Starkville, which has a growing tax base and can cover the expenses without regular tax increases, Columbus finds its tax base flat at best.
Ten years is far too long to have waited for a viable and responsible street paving program.
Paving is the most broadly visible sign of infrastructural inadequacies, but is not alone.
The city has recently unveiled a new street sweeper, which can regularly be spotted cleaning streets.
We are hopeful that community groups will soon be able to build on the work of the street sweeping by resuming “clean-up” programs that were held prior to the pandemic.
You also see it at The Columbus Riverwalk, what should be the city’s show piece.
While the city’s public works department does a credible job in keeping the grass cut, the sediment from floods during the past few years remains a blot on the picturesque beauty of the Riverwalk. The approach seems to be to push it off the walking path and let it pile up on the sides of the trail and throughout some of the pavilions. Periodic flooding is a natural occurrence for a park that follows the course of a river. Simply pushing the sediment aside rather than removing it should not be an accepted approach.
Some of the city’s other parks show similar signs of neglect.
Without a real plan, backed by a consistent funding mechanism, efforts to maintain our infrastructure will continue to be both costly and ineffective.
Collectively, these conditions say something about our city that residents and visitors notice. Are we projecting the image we want to project? As we move past next week’s general election, the mayor and city council must address solutions to these most visible problems.
The Dispatch Editorial Board is made up of publisher Peter Imes, columnist Slim Smith, managing editor Zack Plair and senior newsroom staff.