Tonight’s the night.
Not only will the Town Council approve its budget for fiscal 2011, its members also will vote on issuing $20.4 million in general obligation bonds that include $16 million and change for doubling the size of the town library.
The crucial vote is the decision on whether to issue the library expansion bonds. The council has to approve a town budget – state law says so. But the council does not have to issue those bonds. That’s completely discretionary, and were this a healthy economy in which to borrow that great an amount of money, I’d be all for it.
But times are tough, and you would expect a majority of council members to show some common sense on fiscal matters, even if the town manager is going out of his way to reassure them that the borrowing is no cause for worry. I think borrowing always is a cause for worry, but that’s just me. I’d advise the council to hold off until we see some improvement in the economy. (The town has three more years in which it could issue the bonds; that’s plenty of time to see how the economy shakes out.)
If I were a betting man, though, I’d say the vote will go 5-4 in favor of issuance. In previous discussions of the matter, Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt and council members Penny Rich and Sally Greene have shown no reluctance to borrow that money. They have enthusiastically backed issuing the bonds from Day 1. The lousy economy doesn’t faze them. And they don’t seem to understand out of whose pockets the money will come.
These folks are more concerned with the town’s image than with its fiscal health. And they certainly don’t seem to subscribe to the wisdom of not borrowing money in bad economic times unless there’s an emergency. The library expansion is in no way an emergency.
Council members Matt Czajkowski, Laurin Easthom and Gene Pease have voiced their profound doubts about the timing of the bonds, and I would bet they will vote against the issue, as it would be prudent to do.
That leaves Donna Bell, Jim Ward and Ed Harrison as the swing votes.
Bell has shown great good sense in her time on the council, and she has questioned the need for the bonds to be issued now. She would seem to be in the Let’s Wait on This camp.
Ward usually votes the same as Greene, and while he has railed against the county and its unwillingness to provide more funding for the town library, the fact that a big chunk of the money needed to run the expanded library won’t be there will not affect his decision for the bonds.
That leaves Harrison. My sense is that he will vote for the issue, if only because he sits next to Greene and would not want to have to put up with her sniping if he didn’t go along.
So come Tuesday morning, I predict the town will be headed inexorably toward a greatly expanded library as well as a whole lot more debt to pay back.