Terry Baker, president of the Washington County Commissioners, led a failed effort Tuesday to convince his fellow commissioners to scale back on the county’s projected borrowing of $14 million in tax-supported bonds in the next fiscal year.
“All over the county, wherever you go, people say, ‘Stop borrowing money,’” Baker said. “And for me, $14 million is just unacceptable.”
The other four commissioners stressed that the county is not proposing any increase in the tax rate and that less borrowing would mean cutting or delaying planned capital projects.
“For everyone who told me, ‘Don’t borrow any more money; I’m done,’ I would have someone else say, ‘Why aren’t you paving my road? Why aren’t you widening it? Why am I in harm’s way every time I go down Eastern Boulevard?’” Commissioner Ruth Anne Callaham said.
Callaham and commissioners John F. Barr, William B. McKinley and Jeffrey A. Cline said they were in favor of moving forward at the $14-million borrowing level.
Their consensus means the county’s draft $54.3-million, fiscal 2012 capital improvement budget will move forward to a public hearing with few changes.
After the hearing, typically held in May, the budget will go to the commissioners for a vote. Fiscal 2012 begins on July 1.
The biggest capital expenditures proposed for the new fiscal year are for upgrades to the Winebrenner Wastewater Treatment Plant, budgeted to get $10.8 million; the central library expansion, which is earmarked for $8.2 million; and construction of the Ruth Ann Monroe Primary School, also at about $8.2 million.
Other projects listed to receive multimillion-dollar sums next year include $3 million in pavement maintenance and rehabilitation; $2.7 million toward widening Eastern Boulevard; and $2.2 million toward a new senior community center.
Baker suggested scaling borrowing back to $8 million.
Callaham challenged Baker to name the projects he would cut to get to that level.
“I just look at that $3 million on pavement maintenance,” Callaham said. “I wouldn’t want to be the person calling around the county and saying, ‘I’m sorry, your road’s not going to be fixed this year because we don’t want to borrow the money.’”
Baker said he would look to county staff for recommendations on scaling down the projects.
Low interest rates and the value of capital investments were other reasons given by the commissioners in support of the proposed borrowing.