There are a host of reasons to vote against the Greensboro bond referendums on the ballot and some reasons to vote for some of the bonds. But according to both those in favor and those opposed to the bonds, if the bonds pass, the property tax rate will increase.

Greensboro currently has the highest property tax rate among comparable cities in North Carolina. This will make the property tax rate even higher.

The estimate from the city staff on how much taxes would increase if the bonds pass was originally 3.35 cents. It has since been lowered to 2.1 cents.

The 3.35 cents includes paying the cost of all the bond debt, which includes the $160 million in bonds that were passed in 2006, 2008 and 2009 and have not been sold. The 2006 bonds have to be sold this year or the city loses the authority to sell those bonds, which exists for 10 years.

The reason that those bonds have not been sold is that city councils for the past 10 years have not wanted to raise taxes, so they haven’t sold the bonds. But the current City Council wants to spend money and with this bond referendum is asking permission from the voters to raise taxes.

So if you want a tax increase, vote for the bonds. If you don’t want a tax increase, vote against the bonds.

There is no guarantee that the City Council won’t raise your taxes anyway. Nothing in politics is written in stone, but if the bonds pass, the City Council will interpret that as permission from the voters to raise taxes and it is almost certain that they will do so, although they may put off raising taxes next year since it is an election year.

The City Council will be elected to four-year terms next year, if the bonds pass the tax increase will come in 2018 with the councilmembers betting that by 2021 everyone will have forgotten all about the tax increase.

One good reason to vote against the bonds is the secretive and slapdash way the whole bond package was put together. This $126 million bond package came out of a brief discussion at the annual City Council retreat last January when the council inquired about a bond referendum and was told the city could take on about another $40 million in bond debt without raising taxes.

After that the members of the City Council met for months in secret behind locked doors to discuss how to spend the $40 million they had just found. Reportedly the meetings were legal because no more than four members of the City Council, less than a majority, ever met together at one time. The result of those secret meetings was the bond package grew from $40 million to about $200 million.

Some but not all members of the City Council met again in secret and whittled that down to $106 million to present at their first public discussion of the bonds, where it was cut to $104.7 million. These are city councilmembers who talk every week about being open and transparent and the need to have community involvement, but the bond discussions took place behind locked doors with no public input.

Mayor Nancy Vaughan, when asked why the bond discussions were held in secret, said she had no idea and didn’t like small group meetings because they were inefficient. It makes you wonder who made the decision to hold the secret meetings. But since the decision to hold secret meetings was made in secret that secret hasn’t gotten out yet.

At the next public discussion of the bonds by the City Council, the $104.7 million was raised back up to $178 million. At that time, Vaughan said she was hoping for about an $80 million bond package.

The City Council evidently decided that if it put $178 million in bonds on the ballot there was a good chance that none of the bonds would pass, so they cut that $178 to the $126 now on the ballot, and the number of bonds from six to four. The decision was based primarily on what the City Council thought it could get passed, but because councilmembers had their own pet projects the council could not reach a consensus on getting the total back down to the $100 million range.

Bond referendums most often come about because of a perceived need for major capital projects. Road widening projects are usually paid with bonds. Bonds are passed to build new libraries, fire stations, water and wastewater treatment plants and other major capital expenses that it makes sense to borrow money over 20 years to pay for, just like most of us borrow money over 20 or 30 years to pay for our homes.

This bond came about because the City Council went looking for projects that it could spend the $40 million in what the council saw as free money. It started off with money looking for projects, which is backwards, and it has been backwards ever since.

Another factor that makes it backwards is that because bonds are usually sold for specific projects, the city has done the groundwork on how much those projects will actually cost, but when you have money looking for projects it doesn’t work like that.

The way the bonds went from $178 million to $126 was not based on what projects cost but largely on how councilmembers felt about the numbers. The Housing Bond, for instance, was lowered from $38.5 million to $25 million because Councilmember Mike Barber argued that the city shouldn’t include the Housing Bond at all.

The $20 million for repaving streets was completely eliminated at one point and then in the same meeting added back in at $18 million. Barber was the biggest proponent of using bond money to repave streets, something that is ordinarily done out of the regular yearly budget. Barber argued that the city was so far behind in street repaving that bond money was needed to catch up.

If the city isn’t properly maintaining streets with its budget of $519 million, what is it that has taken priority over maintaining streets – a city service that nearly every resident uses. Paving streets is an ongoing expense, not a one-time expense. It’s generally considered bad financial management to borrow money for ongoing expenses. Plus the current budget raised the vehicle registration fee from $10 to $30 and $18.50 of that $20 increase is to be used to repave streets. So the citizens of Greensboro are already paying an increased fee to repave streets, and if the bonds pass they will also be facing a property tax increase for the city to provide a service that it should provide from its yearly budget.

The City Council also decided to use money from its water and sewer fund to repair and repave streets, which is a good indication of how much excess money there is in the water and sewer fund and might make some citizens wonder why the water rates keep getting raised.

The city is spending $500,000 a year on participatory budgeting, which is $500,000 to buy gewgaws and doodads for council districts because a relatively few people – in some cases fewer than 100 people – voted for them. Certainly paving streets should take precedence over $10,000 outdoor chess tables. It should also take precedence over giving money to museums and other nonprofits. Properly maintaining streets should take precedence over the City Council giving itself a 60 percent raise, but it hasn’t taken precedence over any of those other expenses.

Because of some as yet unknown problem with the way the city bids projects, it is only receiving one bid for some paving projects. If that holds true for these projects the city might not be able to pave nearly as many streets as it estimates it can with the $18 million of the $28 million Transportation Bond.

The other $10 million of the Transportation Bond is supposed to be spent on sidewalks, bike lanes, intersection improvements, new buses and bus shelters. In other words, on some transportation project, but the City Council isn’t sure what. The city bond document doesn’t include or “the kitchen sink” in the description, but it could. Vaughan consistently argued against using bond money for bus shelters, but it’s in there nonetheless.

The $25 million in Housing Bonds includes helping people with incomes up to $79,000 a year buy new homes. An argument can be made for providing safe and affordable housing for those at the bottom of the economic ladder, but the city plans to raise taxes on many people whose incomes are far less than $79,000 a year to help those making more buy bigger and better homes than they could afford. It was explained to the City Council that this bond would help police officers and teachers buy new homes.

The $38.5 million Community and Economic Development Bond could result in some much-needed work being done to improve the downtown. The bond includes $25 million for downtown infrastructure improvement. The problem is that the City Council never discussed what that meant other than streetscaping Elm Street from Fisher Avenue to Gate City Boulevard and some other downtown streets. The city has no drawings, nothing more than rough guesstimates of what the work would cost or what it would entail. Downtown Greensboro Inc. President Zack Matheny has some drawings of what the possible improvements would be and they are impressive, but Matheny is no longer on the City Council and the City Council could accept or reject his plans. If the city is asking the people to borrow $25 million for the downtown, the citizens deserve to be told something other than it will look better.

The $25 million could be spent very well and go a long way toward bringing the downtown area up to the standard that people expect, but in government projects $25 million can also be squandered on projects that cost way too much and don’t make much difference. The council discussed lowering the $25 million to $20 million because $20 million felt better to some city councilmembers.

It appears that Matheny is the only one trying to come up with actual plans on how to spend the $25 million.

And there are some other problems with the Community and Economic Development Bond. Even though the bond package includes a $25 million Housing Bond, the Community and Economic Development Bond includes in its suggested projects 250 mixed-income rental housing units at Union Square on Gate City Boulevard and 250 mixed-income housing rental units on Martin Luther King Jr. Drive, and $1 million for 20 single-family homes in the same neighborhood. Why aren’t these 520 housing units included in the $25 million housing bond? It may be an attempt to keep the Housing Bond at $25 million by moving some projects to the Community and Economic Development Bond.

Even the projects listed by the city for Community and Economic Development Bond don’t make sense. There is $4.5 million for the Union Square redevelopment project, $4 million for redevelopment projects and $2 million for redevelopment projects on MLK Drive.

Then there is $2 million for streetscape, water and sewer and storm water improvements for east Greensboro. East Greensboro is a big place, so what the City Council is saying is $2 million to be spent in Council Districts 1 and 2 and not to be spent in Council Districts 3, 4 and 5. By the way, there is no special allocation for Council Districts 3, 4 and 5.

The voters of Greensboro almost always pass parks and recreation bonds, and this one is for $34.5 million. It was reduced by $6 million when Councilmember Justin Outling discovered that the $8 million that had been slated to combine the Windsor Community Recreation Center with the Vance Chavis Library was nothing but a guess. Outling wanted the bond reduced to $1 million for planning that project but got talked up to $2 million, again, not based on estimates but just guesses on what planning the project would cost.

Once again the City Council could decide to spend $1 million on planning or take $7 million from money designated for something else and use it to build the project if it turns out that the guess on the cost was right on the money.

The Parks and Recreation Bond includes another $7 million to finish building the downtown Greenway, a wide sidewalk around the downtown about four miles long that the city has been working on for 15 years. So after 15 years the city says that it still needs $7 million to finish this project.

Another $7 million is slated to connect the Atlantic and Yadkin Greenway, which runs along Battleground Avenue to the downtown Greenway.

The bond includes $5 million to design and build the Battleground Parks District, which is an innovative idea to combine all the recreation facilities near the Guilford Courthouse National Military Park into one park district. Along with the National Military Park, this would include the Greensboro Science Center, Country Park, Lewis Recreation Center, Jaycee Park, Forest Lawn Cemetery and the Atlantic and Yadkin Greenway. The $5 million would pay for planning how all these recreational facilities could work together and build the facilities necessary to make it happen.

The bond includes $6 million to upgrade community recreation centers, neighborhood parks and buy land.

There is $4.5 million to finish Gateway Gardens on Gate City Boulevard and $3 million to improve the tennis facilities in the city.

Except for the $6 million grab bag, it appears parks and recreation knows how it would like to spend the money.

Another reason to vote against the bonds is because nobody, not even the City Council, knows how the bond money will be spent. The only requirements for how the bond money is spent is that it has to be consistent with the extremely general paragraph that appears on the ballot. The City Council could, for instance, decide that it didn’t want to spend any money on street paving, but instead wanted to spend all the transportation bond money to buy new electric buses to replace all the current buses that burn fossil fuels. It’s not likely to happen, but it is also extremely unlikely that the City Council will spend the bond money on all the projects on the promotional material the city is distributing at taxpayer expense. Those are the suggested bond projects, which the City Council has up until this point discussed very little. It may happen that the very project that caused you to vote for the bonds doesn’t get built.