Your View: Don’t oversimplify city debt issue

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Your View: Don’t oversimplify city debt issue
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By Dan Koslov, Alexandria (File photo)

To the editor:
A recent letter cited Alexandria’s AAA bond rating as evidence that “we have an amazingly well run city,” (“City’s debt isn’t an issue, according to financial experts,” July 23). The author, identified as a “Bill Euille write-in campaign organizer,” characterizes other candidates who are talking about the need for better defined policy regarding debt limits, as “complaining”, and admonishes them (and like-minded residents) about “yelling ‘fire’ by raising a non-existent issue.”

I disagree with the premise of this letter, as using the bond rating as the sole metric to declare that “all is well” grossly oversimplifies this critical issue.

The bond rating does reflect the fact that we have thankfully invested conservatively, as compared to other jurisdictions, and in the year-to-year budgetary mix of cash capital versus debt. Few would argue that the city has done much that was necessary and good via its capital improvement plan. But there is more to the story.

In fiscal 2004, the percentage of the operating budget used for debt service was 4.6 percent.  By the fiscal 2015 budget, it has more than doubled to over 10 percent. We should note that every dollar we spend on debt service is a dollar we take away from the financial resources we use to run the city every day, including fairly compensating the hundreds we employ to protect and serve us, including police and sheriff personnel, firefighters and EMTs, teachers
and city staff.

It is shameful that governments at all levels routinely deal with debt issues on the backs of their employees by withholding or minimizing the cost of living raises they earned and deserve.

The existence of municipal debt is a fact of life. It would be naive to debate whether we should have any debt. The real issue is to consider what amount of debt is both reasonable and responsible. I believe that the rapid doubling of the city’s debt service requirement as a percentage of its operating budget makes debt limit policy an issue that our candidates and residents should be discussing.

One can look only at the city’s bond rating and suggest that those who are thinking and talking about debt limit policy are “complaining,” “yelling fire” and “raising a non-existent issue.” But a more complete reading of the facts makes that characterization rather disingenuous, as is the notion that it forms a rational basis for re-electing Bill Euille or anyone else.

No matter where candidates fall on the question of how much debt we should carry, I am grateful that Allison Silberberg, Bob Wood, Townsend Van Fleet and Justin Wilson are talking about this critical issue, and I suggest that anyone who seeks to represent us should be doing the same.

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