EDITORIAL: Voters should take time to study city bond issues

Jul. 31, 2013 @ 05:00 AM

When it comes to voting on bond referendums, voters, like ice cream at a typical fast-food joint, tend to come in just a few flavors.

The vanilla of the bunch reject almost every bond vote because of the debt and tax burden they add to a municipality, and thus the citizens who pay those bills. There’s a certain buoyancy to that argument, as residents living on fixed incomes pointed out Monday at the Sanford City Council’s public hearing on its four $14.5 million bond issues. City officials estimate the property tax impact of the combined projects at just over 5 cents, meaning $50 and some change in additional taxes to voters who own a $100,000 home. In an economy that has seen folks go from stretching every dollar to stretching every penny, any increase in tax burden is unwelcome.

But the most informed voters decide on the merits of the issue — factoring in, of course, the added financial burden and the return on the investment, as well as the big-picture fiscal condition of the municipality — carefully, and vote accordingly. It’s that issue of “the informed voter” that drew most of the attention of bond naysayers at Monday’s public hearing.

There was discussion Monday, both among council members and city residents, about the need to delay the city’s bond vote. Originally scheduled to coincide with November’s general election, the four bond issues were moved to the Sept. 10 primary election by a 4-3 vote of the council two weeks ago. Councilman Jimmy Haire, the loudest voice then against moving the bond from November, spoke again Monday. Having the vote in September, he said — with early voting starting in just three weeks — doesn’t give citizens nearly enough time to learn about the bonds.

But Councilwoman Rebecca Wyhof, who voted with Haire two weeks ago, countered his sentiments on Monday. She said testimony both “for” and “against” the bonds by citizens at the public hearing were proof that the educational process about them was beginning to yield fruit.

Plenty of accusations have flown — including some not-so-thinly-veiled ones leveled at the council during the hearing — that council members are playing politics with the date of the bond vote. It’s certainly possible, but it’s always easier for conspiracy theorists to assign motives rather than accept things on face value. The real question they, and all of us, should be asking: Is this the right time for these expensive, but possibly community-defining, projects?

And there’s plenty of time to answer that between now and the primary election day.

The bonds — which, if all approved, would provide funds for a streetscape improvements in Sanford and Jonesboro, improvements in existing recreational facilities, the extension of the Endor Iron Furnace Greenway and the repair and addition of sidewalks in Sanford — aren’t difficult to grasp. Information on the city’s website (http://www.sanfordnc.net/Bonds/bonds.html) provides a good overview of the projects, and a series of stories starting in today’s Herald provides more depth and insight.

Most of these projects have been on the drawing board for a decade. Voters who’ll take time to study the candidates prior to the Sept. 10 primary election can easily do the same about the bond issues — and, we trust, vote intelligently.