Thursday, July 21, 2016

Ideas on paying for Davidson...

Several weeks ago, I penned a column on the full slate of financial issues facing the Town of Davidson, and for the first time since starting these columns for the Herald Weekly, the Town officially pushed back on how things were portrayed.

When it came to the town budget for FY2017, the Town objected to the use of the colloquialism “spending every dime” when referring to its spending plan.   The town argued that it wasn’t “spending” every dime because they were “putting $200,000 into a capital projects fund to meet the town’s future capital needs”.

Needless to say, the town didn’t give taxpayers any of their money back in the new budget.  Readers can decide for themselves if there’s a difference in “spending” taxpayer money now versus keeping taxpayer money for spending later.

The Town also didn’t like the point made in that previous column regarding use of fund balance (aka its savings account) to pay for the long awaited 2nd fire station.  Even though documents passed out to the public showed fund balance as a source of funding for the fire station, the town wanted it clarified that it now planned to pay for the second fire station with installment financing but could use fund balance to pay the debt service.

How that’s materially different is a bit of a head scratcher, but it seems to be in the same vein as the first point.  It’s easy to split hairs over wording.  It’s harder to actually address the points made on spending and priorities.

As Davidson continues discussions on capital spending plans (Commissioners had a quickly scheduled, “special meeting” billed as a “mini-retreat” to discuss the topic on July 11th) here are a few ideas Commissioners could use to pay for some of their desired projects without reflexively raising property tax rates which are already the highest in North Mecklenburg.

Ask Davidson College to pay more of its fair share towards the services it receives.

A 2014 study of fiscal impact analysis commissioned by the town from consultancy TischlerBise showed that Davidson College receives almost $200,000 per year more in services from the town than it pays.  Due to being a non-profit institution the college pays almost nothing, yet it receives a tremendous amount of service from the town – particularly from its fire department.

The Town wants a new downtown fire station. Davidson College could easily donate land for this project.  The College should also be asked to make a payment in lieu of taxes to offset its outsized use of fire services or to finance some of the debt to build a new station.

Implement a special assessment district to help pay for parking.

When the Red Line was all the rage a few years ago, Davidson Town Hall was more than willing to seek approval from local commercial real estate owners in the town center to help finance it.  The Town should be equally as willing go seek a Special Assessment District to help pay for a multi-million parking facility.  Frankly, if downtown commercial property owners and businesses who will benefit the most from such a facility are not willing to help pay for it, then maybe it’s not all that needed.

Make the Affordable Housing program self-funding.

Davidson is in the process of its first ever RFP for an affordable housing project.  This one is on Town owned land in the Bailey Springs neighborhood.  Based on a conversation with the new town attorney, Cindy Reid, it seems likely the town may give the land away for the project.  Regardless, the RFP did not require payment for the land.  Rather than possibly taking on debt for the Affordable Housing program, the Town should commit to making the controversial program self funding through payments in lieu from developers and no free land from the town for its projects.

All of these options and many others are harder than simply taking on debt and raising taxes, but that’s what elected officials signed up for when they ran for office.  It will be interesting to see which direction Davidson’s Board chooses.

This post first appeared in this week’s edition of the Herald Weekly at 

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