If you’ve ever consulted a financial advisor to sort out your finances, you know that the first thing that expert will likely do is look at your debt — particularly credit card debt.
Although it’s not a precise comparison, that exercise has been the focus of the Gaskin administration and the Columbus city council as it plans next year’s budget.
For the past several years, the city has been issuing bonds for projects without providing the funds to pay for them — at least twice in the past two years — including a $6.5 million road paving bond that did not include a millage increase to cover the debt.
It’s like continually running up credit card debt and saying, “I’ll figure out how to pay it back later.” It’s tantamount to kicking the can down the road.
Although the city’s budget hasn’t been finalized, all indications are that the city will address this issue in a meaningful way.
The millage for next fiscal year, which begins Oct. 1, is set at 54.11. It includes a 2.59-mill increase for the city’s general obligation debt as well as a .75-mill increase for urban renewal bonds — included in the operations budget — the city issued in 2018 to pay for redevelopment efforts in Burns Bottom. A .47-mill reduction in a firefighter disability and relief fund, which is set by the state, brings the balance of the mill increase to 2.87. That will generate roughly $560,000 for debt service.
In some respects, the city’s plan addresses the symptom rather than the illness — virtually all of this debt is related to road paving projects, a recurring expense that has yet to be factored into the city budget. The city’s plans will address the current debt, but will not address the underlying problem — an unrealistic approach to maintain city streets.
It’s a start though.
Raising taxes is never a popular idea and the city council has been reluctant to take those measures. For a new administration just three months on the job, the idea of raising taxes could not have been a pleasant prospect. But it’s a necessary measure as the city tries to put its finances in order.
The city’s budget process is always a dose of reality, especially for a new administration eager to make good on its campaign promises.
This year’s budget reflects that sobering reality. There is money budgeted for city employee pay raises, but otherwise no other new initiatives have been highlighted.
This should be no indictment of the administration or proof that the administration doesn’t intend to fulfill its promises. Whatever plans the administration may have, the first order of business was getting control of its finances, especially its debt.
We applaud the mayor, staff and council for recognizing that necessity and taking the unpleasant but necessary steps to address it.
The Dispatch Editorial Board is made up of publisher Peter Imes, columnist Slim Smith, managing editor Zack Plair and senior newsroom staff.