When our City began the current 2-year budget cycle in 2011, we were looking at having to withdraw $786,466 from our Contingency Fund to make ends meet. By tightening our belts, eliminating waste and making hard decisions, we will end 2012 without having withdrawn a single dollar. Consequently, when I read Councilmember Cero’s letter that accuses the City of financial mismanagement as a reason for opposing the $5.2 million Fire Station and Rescue Truck Bond, I are not going to sit by and let him distort the City’s record. These are the actual facts:
- The fire equipment sinking fund was set-up in 2003 to be funded by dedicated property taxes and investment earnings on those taxes. Every penny of dedicated property taxes and of investment earnings has gone into the sinking fund and nowhere else. For Councilmember Cero to claim that the City has instead diverted those monies into “discretionary products and services” is patently false.
- The sinking fund was never created to pay for a replacement fire station. Its only purpose was to purchase new fire equipment. The ONLY reason the sinking fund is insufficient to buy the rescue truck is low investment earnings. When established, we projected earnings of 5% or more. Since 2008, interest rates have plummeted. If we had been able to earn 5% or more, we would now have more than enough money for the rescue truck.
- The City does not have surplus monies sitting around that could be used to pay for this fire station and rescue truck. Adjusted for inflation, our City is actually spending the same in 2012 from its General Fund as we spent in 2007. That would not be the case if, as claimed by Councilmember Cero, we were wasting surplus monies on discretionary projects.
I find Councilmember Cero’s position disingenuous. He has publicly supported the new fire station, the $4.8 million cost of which represents more than 90% of the Bond proceeds. , representing less than 10% of the Bond. Yet he has also said that he would have supported this Bond if the full $5.2 million had gone to fire station. Why would he waste money on unnecessary building frills rather than buy essential, life-saving equipment?
This is only the second time in 16 years the City has asked voters to approve additional revenue. When we ask voters now to replace a 50-year old fire station and a 17-year old rescue truck, we do it only because:
- Community safety is our highest priority;
- There were no alternative funding sources;
- We had first spent almost a year finding ways to reduce the project costs; and
- Low interest rates enable us to get the entire project paid off in 9 years at an average cost of $60/household.
Contrary to Councilmember Cero’s inferences and innuendos, this is the type of fiscal management and prioritization that Islanders are entitled to and why I encourage Islanders to support this critical safety initiative.