First catch up on maintenance, then implement long-term plans

By Chelsea Avirett | Aug 11, 2016

In November, the city of Rockland will ask voters to approve several bonds, including one to fund necessary repairs to or rebuilding of several local roads. None of the bonds, including the road bond, will impact the tax levy, because each project would be funded by essentially rolling over existing debt. Currently, the budget includes a line-item for repaying debt the city has already incurred; as that debt expires, the city can choose to take on new debt, a philosophy of maintaining a “level debt” over time. This allows the city to build in long-term planning by funding capital improvement projects without raising taxes.

Unfortunately, the city’s infrastructure needs far outweigh the its current borrowing capacity. In the past, Rockland has chronically underspent on maintenance — many of our roads need repair simply because they haven’t been properly maintained — and so money must be spent playing catch-up before the city can begin using infrastructure investments to jumpstart economic development.

The recent CIP workshop defined priorities based on necessity — each of the bond questions (with the exception of partially funding the fiber-optic backbone) addresses significant deterioration issues, either of roads or the library building — but the discussion in the community has focused on whether Rockland is ignoring an opportunity to jumpstart long-term projects, specifically the Camden Street project, which is languishing in the engineering stage.

Essentially, the discussion boils down to whether CIPs should fund immediate problems or long-term solutions. But this is a false dichotomy because CIPs are intended to be spent on more expensive projects in which the use and cost are spread out over decades. Budgets should include (as the current one finally does) money for routine maintenance and small projects. What’s really at issue here in Rockland is how the city can recover from years of lax infrastructure spending and establish a firm foundation on which to do future planning.

Ultimately, spending money from this CIP on something like the Camden Street project would hinder long-term development. We would have a very nice road, but it would be an island in the midst of crumbling pavement. You could walk pleasantly along Camden Street, but might stumble on uneven pavement getting there.

The current projects the CIP is funding are necessary and a drop in the proverbial bucket. The roads budget was determined by the Public Services department by first identifying roads that are currently disintegrating. To repair all such roads would cost three times the available debt money. The approved list (which is subject to modification) was determined by ranking each deteriorated road according to how frequently it is used.

This may not be as exciting or ambitious as a project like the Camden Street redesign, but the goal is to address long-deferred maintenance and repair deficiencies so the city can move forward to such projects. It also improves the residential quality of life, creating new sidewalks and bike lanes throughout the city.

Camden Street should absolutely be funded. But we can’t do that at the expense of necessary projects. In other words, these bonds are funding exactly what they should fund — they are allowing the city to catch up so that in the future we can start funding our vision of what the city should look like.

The discussion of using CIP funds for projects such as Camden Street, however, reveals a clear (albeit planned) omission from the current CIP discussion: what that long-term plan actually is. The city will continue to retire debt at regular intervals, freeing up small funds for continued infrastructure improvement. At what point can the city transition from catch-up and move to creating infrastructure that drives economic and community development? Then what will the city prioritize?

This omission is unfortunately common in how the city does planning — with regular turnover of managers and staff, projects are half-started and priorities are inconsistent. Rockland does not lack ideas. It lacks implementation of those ideas.

The city needs to prioritize a long-term CIP plan so that the community can see a clear path for resolving the current infrastructure problems while also establishing firm intentions to implement the current plans committees have worked so hard on.

This doesn’t mean the current bonds should be delayed — it’s essential that the backlog of projects be taken care of first. We can’t plan for the future on a crumbling infrastructure. But a long-term CIP plan should not only be developed and aligned with community goals, but implemented.

Comments (1)
Posted by: David E Myslabodski | Aug 12, 2016 22:31

WE HAVE TRUTHS, WE HAVE LIES AND WE ALSO HAVE ACCOUNTING TRICKS!

 

 

RE  "None of the bonds, including the road bond, will impact the tax levy, because each project would be funded by essentially rolling over existing debt." AND "the city can choose to take on new debt, a philosophy of maintaining a “level debt” over time."And now council is trying to bamboozle the bumpkins, one more time, by telling us that "taxes will not go up."

 

Of the $28,875,725 of total [principal & interests] it took Rockland from 2004 to 2018 to retire around 14 Million and council cannot wait to MAX OUT the available credit line. Even at "historical" [can council guarantee that interest will not go down in the future?] low interest rates the magic of compounded interest cuts both ways. I 2016, 2017 & 2018 Rockland will pay about 26% in interests!!!

 

Maintaining a "level debt" over time. Oh, really? Maintaining a level debt at about 20% of your credit line will be a responsible act. MAXING OUT Rockland's credit and keeping this level for years is fiscally irresponsible. Try to do that to your credit card and you will see your FICO rating tank plus one maxed out there are no reserves for a rainy day . . .

 

And do not get me started on the negligent behavior of city hall that brought us to today having a broken infrastructure.

 

People are asking questions: Rockland residents pay up tho their eye-balls in taxes and where has the money gone??? Downtown perhaps???

 

Council has a tons of explanations to do . . .

 

Like starting the Rockport side of Old County Road repairs BEFORE it was even discussed at city council. Council already approved to take $120,000 from a reserve fund to pay the contractor and come November they want The people to bond $99,000. I thought that a responsible council would first ask and get the response of The People BEFORE spending the money.

 

88 DAYS TO ELECTION DAY!!!

 

 



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