It is certainly within the realm of possibility that if the $126 million bond passes that the Greensboro City Council will spend the money well to benefit all the citizens of Greensboro.
It is possible, but highly unlikely. Past action is the best indication of future behavior. The present City Council barely discussed its $520 million budget. This year the council did talk about the budget some, but last year they were too busy to even hold a full budget work session.
According to the information on how the bond money will be spent, the lion’s share will be spent in east Greensboro and downtown.
But there is no reason to think that the City Council is suddenly going to change its personality and get down to work on how the $126 million can best be spent.
When they were running for office, city councilmembers uniformly talked about the need for more and better jobs for the citizens of Greensboro. Where on the list of projects is there any item that will bring a significant number of jobs to Greensboro? Jobs was a great campaign issue, but that got left out of the bond package.
In keeping with its lack of discussion on the yearly budget, the City Council barely discussed the projects that it is now touting to be paid for by the bonds.
A good indication of exactly how much time and effort went into planning these projects is that they are almost all rounded to the nearest million. Out of the 24 projects the City Council says it plans to complete with the $126 million, four projects are rounded to $500,000 and the other 20 projects are all rounded to the nearest million.
This is because the City Council didn’t actually discuss how much projects would cost but instead discussed how much it planned to spend on projects.
The $25 million for the downtown is a case in point. This figure went from $10 million to $25 million; then $20 million was discussed, and the figure settled at $25 million. At no time during the discussions was there any mention of how much streetscaping the downtown would cost per block or what would have to be cut if $5 million were eliminated, or how much more they could do if $15 million was added. It was simply a discussion of the amount of money, not how much the project would cost.
This is backwards of how most bond referendums are created. Most of the time the governmental body has some major projects for which they have cost estimates. They then put a bond on the ballot to cover the estimated cost. This bond started with the money and then went looking for projects.
This matters because, in a case like the county building a new jail, the need for a jail was discussed, preliminary plans were drawn up with an estimate of total costs and then a bond was put on the ballot for a jail. The voters could be fairly certain that the county was actually going to use the money to build a jail.
In this case, with little planning, no cost estimates and only a brief discussion of how the money will be spent, it will be easy for the City Council to be swayed to some new endeavor because the City Council has no firm plans for the money.
Voters who are voting for the bonds are essentially voting to raise their property taxes so the City Council can have $126 million to spend however it sees fit.
Even the tax increase is wonky. The City Council was told that if the bonds passed and the current $165 in bond money already available is also spent that taxes would increase 3.35 cents. The tax increase has been reduced to 2.1 cents, but the amount of bond money being spent hasn’t been reduced.
In the past the city has kept from raising taxes for bonds by delaying projects and the sale of the bonds, which is why the city still has money from a 2006 bond referendum that hasn’t been spent. The City Council did make it clear that it wanted to spend most of this money quickly. If the bonds pass the council will claim the voters want their taxes, already the highest in the state for any comparable city, raised even higher.
High property taxes do not encourage job growth.
Nobody at the city seems to have any concrete plans on how the $25 million for the downtown will be spent. The City Council talked about streetscaping Elm Street and some other downtown streets, but with no cost estimates or even basic plans on how extensive that streetscaping will be, it is impossible to know what that means.
Actually, so little planning went into the bond package that the same block of Gate City Boulevard is listed twice for streetscaping – once under the $25 million downtown project list and once under the $4.5 million South Elm Street Redevelopment Plan list.
If this City Council actually plans to spend $25 million downtown, it seems likely that the International Civil Rights Center and Museum will get a cut.
There was no public discussion of giving the sit-in museum any money, but that doesn’t mean that some city councilmembers haven’t been considering it.
The only person who seems to be working on a plan for the $25 million in downtown bond money is Downtown Greensboro Inc. President Zack Matheny. But the City Council has no obligation to do anything Matheny suggests.
There is development downtown and parking is becoming more of an issue. The City Council didn’t discuss using some of the $25 million to provide more parking or really anything else except that making the streets downtown look better would be a plus.
Bond money is under very few restrictions, and as with all the bonds, the City Council doesn’t have to spend the money downtown at all. It can spend it on any economic development project or in any part of town it wants. The City Council could decide that more money is needed for affordable housing and spend it on that. There is already some affordable housing in the Community and Economic Development Bond package, so it would be simple to add more.
If the bonds pass then the City Council will be forced to discuss how it will spend the money, but with the current City Council who knows what they will come up with. The Parks and Recreation Bond has $7 million for the portion of the A&Y Greenway that Marty Kotis is designing for the city. It’s not a stretch to think the city might decide to put some of the Community and Economic Development bond money along that corridor to enhance its $7 million investment in the Greenway.
The whole bond idea started off with a Housing Bond, mainly to provide affordable and low-income housing. But the plans for the $25 million in Housing Bonds also includes funding for families who make up to $79,000 a year and to provide homes for the homeless.
City Councilmember Mike Barber argued vehemently against the Housing Bond. He said that if Greensboro builds more low-income and affordable housing what the City Council is going to attract to Greensboro are more people who need government-subsidized housing, and what the city needs to do is attract more good paying jobs.
The idea that the city would tax its citizens to help people with incomes up to $79,000 buy bigger and nicer houses than they could afford on their own is offensive. It’s also dangerous. Why stop at $79,000? Why not help people who have incomes of $85,000, $90,000 or $200,000? Most everyone would like a bigger and better house than they can afford. Why doesn’t the city start a program to subsidize everyone?
The bottom-line is that nobody, not even the City Council, knows how the money will be spent if the bonds pass, but you can bet that if the bonds do pass your property taxes will increase.