Brother, Can You Spare $1,635?

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I write this opinion piece in the capacity of a candidate for mayor. We have repeatedly extended an open invitation to Ella Jones to publish articles here, but she has not submitted them. Mayor Jones has a column in the Ferguson Neighborhood News, for which the city pays them a monthly fee.

As the election draws near, the mayor has discovered that the condition of our streets is not good. For those of us who bicycle, walk, or drive in vehicles less isolating than a Cadillac SUV, this is not new information. Everywhere you go in Ferguson, with the exception of a few neighborhoods, the streets are falling apart.

Mayor Jones sees this not as a problem, but an opportunity. First, she used her city paid column, in the month before the election, to let us know how much she cares. Then, she suggests that we embark on “a Municipal Bond Issuance process.” Translated into plain English, that means she wants to borrow a tremendous amount of money, over which she hopes to have the power to spend, and which the taxpayers of this city will have to repay. One informed official I spoke with estimated that the cost of refurbishing all our streets would be about $30 million. That is a big pot of money for our elected officials to play with. And it amounts to a debt of $1,635 for every resident of Ferguson.

As your next mayor, I would not rush to a money grab. First, we have to do some homework.

  • How did we get here? Maintaining our streets should be an ongoing process, not a break the bank crisis. A few years back, somebody announced at a council meeting that we are no longer “sealing the cracks” in our streets, which used to be a recurring task. We are also not doing a good job on filling potholes, and other routine maintenance. Before spending money on new streets, we must be sure that we’re properly maintaining them, or we’ll have a $30 million pile of garbage a handful of years down the road.
  • What about utility related problems? On my block, we recently had a water main break. Shortly after that, a wheel of a trash truck fell through the street, revealing a large cavern below. I contacted the appropriate department at the water company, and after investigation, it was determined that a collapsed sewer main was the cause. A contractor paid for by the sewer district fixed the pipe, filled the cavern, and repaired the street. There are numerous places around the city where similar problems have gone uninvestigated. My efforts to get the city to take the initiative on this have, so far, been unsuccessful. I’ll bet there’s a million bucks worth of utility caused street damage that we could get fixed now, at no cost to the city.
  • Can we get grants? A few months ago, representatives of a local street safety organization met with Eric Osterberg, Mike Palmer, Don Boyce, and myself, and they discussed grant opportunities of which Ferguson has failed to take advantage. I didn’t have the authority to press the city to follow up on these, and they did not. We may be leaving a great deal of outside money on the table.

We all realize that our streets are in terrible condition. Mayor Jones believes this justifies taking out a huge loan, which could bankrupt the city, without any further investigation or justification. I disagree. Before even discussing “a Municipal Bond Issuance process” we have to do our homework. Let’s find out how we got here, so that we don’t repeat that costly mistake with our new roads. And let’s find other ways of getting the repairs done, to minimize the impact on the hard working taxpayers of this city. Only when that is done should we think about taking out a loan.