City officials miss the point on debt

Published 12:00 am Saturday, May 3, 2008

Recently, the mayor and Councilman Charles Wrenn, during open debate, and now Bucky Taylor and Andy Rose in a recent article in The Tidewater News, have told us that we do not have too much debt. They trot out the state maximum of 10 percent of real property and the city-imposed maximum of 5 percent. Our current debt of $23.5 million is about 3.8 percent of real property. All of this correct and is absolutely immaterial to any discussion of debt for Franklin.

The real question we need to ask is how much debt can the city afford. So, can we afford $23.5 million? Sure, if you consider that our real estate rates, personal property rates, electric, water and sewer rates are among the highest in comparable-size cities. Sure, as long as the electric reserve fund holds out, which, at the current rate of spending, will be depleted by two years. Sure, if the city refinances assets already paid for and uses the proceeds for spending purposes (such as the last two diesel electric generators the city bought). Sure, if you consider that we are No. 9 out of 39 cities in Virginia in a matrix designed to measure financial stress (1 being the highest).

Our debt today equals about $2,800 per person. The argument that this debt is OK because we are below the limits set by the city and the state simply misses the point. It is too much for a city with a high proportion of citizens on a fixed income as well as an above-average number of families at or below poverty level.

The current spending culture in our city government has to change. There are only two candidates who are speaking out on this problem. I encourage you to vote for Barry Cheatham in Ward 1 and Benny Burgess in Ward 2.

Norwood Boyd