You have an outstanding bill of $13,701. It is your household’s share of our city’s debt and for as long as you live in Oak Ridge, it is the minimum you will owe, regardless of any payments made.
Unlike you, the City of Oak Ridge (your loan co-signer for nearly $200 million) does not have a savings plan, does not truly prioritize future spending and does not desire to reduce our debt other than by the minimum amount that will allow for more borrowing.
You and I are the city and, in spite of our economic woes, we have no plan to cut spending. Instead, we have a 5 year plan to spend nearly $100 million beyond normal operating costs.
This plan is called the Capital Improvement Program (CIP) and contains a list of potential building and infrastructure projects. Some of the projects are assigned a rank of high, medium or low priority. However, given the current rush toward a new Senior Center, it is apparent that less attention is paid to a project’s rank than to local politics since the CIP ranks it as a low priority. Yet, the city is steadfastly moving forward with their intent to demolish the existing senior facility and build something bigger, better and more expensive.
Additionally, what was once a relatively modest library expansion with a five million dollar price tag has recently been exponentially expanded into a National Park Service Visitor Center by the city manager. Cost estimates were not discussed at his initial presentation to city council, but it is apparent that this ambitious tourism facility could easily end up costing as much as the recent high school renovation.
At some point, we should all be asking the question: “How much debt is acceptable?” Before you try to answer, consider one more fact. According to the city’s 3/28/11 multi-year financial model, the property tax rate must increase 4.6% every year through 2017 just to cover existing operating expenditures and debt service. When we assume additional debt, additional increases will inevitably occur.
Debt is never a fun topic of discussion and government debt is just too overwhelming for most of us to comprehend enough to the point of caring. But at the local level, individuals have a much greater ability to effect change. You have a voice and it is powerful. Government doesn’t have to operate this way. Though not easy and not immediate, it is possible to change the way we do business as a city. Please call, write and speak out. Insist that our local officials begin to live within their (our) means