Hegwer: Measure gives voters say in city’s future

Jul. 06, 2013 @ 05:01 AM

This week, we Take 5 with Sanford City Manager Hal Hegwer about the city’s upcoming bond referendum. Last month, the council voted for a bond referendum during the general election this November to allow citizens to decide whether the city will pursue bonds to pay for four capital projects.

Why did the city — and subsequently the city council — choose to pursue a bond referendum for these four projects?

The mayor and city council believe a bond referendum is an opportunity for voters to determine Sanford’s path forward. Council’s vision is that each project included in the referendum is an investment that will come to define our community in the future.

For decades, residents have asked council to invest in these types of community-defining projects. Many residents travel to other cities in search of the facilities Sanford lacks. The resounding request from residents has been for the city to take the bold steps necessary to elevate Sanford, foster economic development and improve the lives of all residents — and council is listening.

Over the next few months, voters will be able to access more information about the referendum and the four community investments at open meetings, in static displays at locations across Sanford and on the city’s website and television channel.

Council is offering the referendum as an opportunity for voters to learn more about their options and decide which investments they want to make in Sanford’s future.

What projects will be covered by the bond issues?

The four projects chosen for the referendum are a continuation of the city’s ongoing vision to improve Sanford’s quality of life. They are:

Streetscape and Pedestrian Improvement Bonds to strengthen and bring continuity to shopping areas in downtown Sanford and Jonesboro, Parks and Recreational Bonds to offer more and improve upon existing recreational facilities, Greenways and Trails Bonds to extend the Endor Iron Furnace Greenway and Sidewalk Improvement Bonds to maintain, repair and add sidewalks to make the city more pedestrian accessible and safe. Council and staff have spent years studying Sanford’s growth opportunities and potential. Until now, their vision for Sanford has been executed slowly, piece by piece.

The referendum would allow the city to take the bold steps needed to bring their vision for Sanford to life by completing these community-defining investments in a shorter time period. This will allow residents to benefit from comprehensive improvements sooner rather than later.

Why is the city using the bond referendum method to pay for these projects?

The city is in excellent financial condition. Using low-cost bond financing will allow the city to spread the cost of these investments over several years while sustaining the high level of services our residents expect.

Also, the city will have 20 years to pay back the bonds, which will allow future residents to pay for a portion of the quality-of-life investments that will benefit them.

What is the total tax rate and property tax implications for each bond referendum in question?

Assuming that voters choose to invest in all four projects, which total $14.5 million — and that the city embarked on all four investments at once — the property tax impact would be 5.2 cents, or $52 per $100,000 of home value, each year.

However, council’s intention is to minimize the tax impact on residents. The bond referendum gives the city seven years to issue bonds for these investments, with the possibility of a three-year extension. That means council has the time and flexibility to carefully plan and implement its long-term vision for Sanford.

Given the condition of the economy, why is now the right time to vote on these particular bond projects?

The four projects chosen by the city can take years to fully implement, so the bond referendum is just one step in long-range planning for and investment in Sanford’s future.

No one disagrees that the economy is still in recovery, but the state of the economy doesn’t change the city’s obligation to continue making steady progress on important quality-of-life projects — especially ones that will also bring economic investment — using the most cost-effective options available.

Current interest rates for borrowing are at historical lows, which would save taxpayers thousands of dollars in interest payments. Construction costs are also projected to be lower than the boom years.

With all of these factors considered, Mayor [Cornelia] Olive and Sanford City Council believe now is the time to seek approval from voters in planning for these projects, which will define Sanford for years to come.