Last night’s city council meeting
Here are my notes from last night’s meeting:
Funding for Road Repair – I’m happy to report a very positive development for those of us who really want good roads. Council is poised to bring Stow’s roads up to a high standard, once and for all. It’s going to require a significant investment. But if we can’t fix them now, when the city’s finances are in A+ condition, when will it happen?
The first question is: What does it mean to “fix” them? Cities operate on an objective rating system, giving each road a grade from to 100. Every year, the city repaves the roads that need it the most. If we had unlimited money, we would fix all of the roads rated “poor” or “failed.” But we haven’t had enough money to do that–ever since the city stripped the road budget in 2008-2010. That has forced us to play catch-up for the past decade. The answer to the first question is: We invest enough money so that no resident has to live on, or travel through, a road that is rated as poor or worse. In the next week or so, we should have a grasp on what the exact dollar figure is.
The second question is: How do we pay for it? Given the city’s stable finances, we actually have a few options, and none involves raising taxes. (1) We could dip into our rainy-day fund, which holds an all-time high of $5.56 million. (2) We could sell notes and bonds. Our city debt load has dropped from $32 million to $14 million in the past decade. Or we could do the option that I have been advocating … an inter-fund loan. Our water fund is flush with cash, but it can only be used on water projects. Loans, however, are permissible. By borrowing X Dollars from the water fund, we could finance the entire job, and pay ourselves back over, say, 10 years. This is preferable to me for two reasons. First, it allows us to maintain the great security of the rainy-day fund–which will be indispensable when the next recession hits. Second, by borrowing from ourselves, and not the market, we can avoid $50,000 of transaction costs to bond lawyers. Third, we are paying interest, but we’re paying it to ourselves. My answer to the second question is: Borrow it from the water fund. The idea is somewhat novel, but not unprecedented; we borrowed from the water fund for a storm-water project last year.
New Commercial/Industrial Projects
One of the reasons we are on solid financial ground is the growth of our tax base. We did this by keeping tax rates low (it was a huge help for voters to reject the proposed income tax increase in 2015), and by aggressively pursuing opportunities to bring good-paying jobs to town.
As chairman of the Planning Committee, I was thrilled to hear about these new projects last night:
- There will be a fourth Fogg building at the southeast corner of Route 8 and Seasons Road. The first two are filled. The third is half-filled, and occupancy is growing. So the developer continues to bet money on Stow, by building a fourth spec building (i.e., no designated tenants yet). It will be the largest of all four, with 213,000 square feet.
- Taking cues from Fogg, another developer is constructing a 101,000 square foot spec building on Allen Road. Construction will begin in the spring.
- The Vizmeg building on McCauley will be expanding by 10,048 square feet to accommodate the company’s operations.
- Stow Muffler Shop (on Kent Road, next to Marty’s Bike Shop) is upgrading its building and adding a 1,000 square feet addition.
Stow passed its budget by a 5-0 vote. For more information about it, please review my post from last month.
Route 8 Construction
Beginning Sunday, Route 8 will drop to one lane in each direction, as workers erect median barriers.
Council will meet next on April 11.