Drake: Lengthening Town’s Debts Is Not In Our Interest

Letter to the editor from Republican member, Board of Estimate and Taxation  

To the editor,

In recent years we’ve had lots of discussions about whether the Town spends enough to build and maintain a high-quality infrastructure. Here are the facts.

In the last 12 budgets, we’ve appropriated the massive amount of $664 million to create improved infrastructure.  Some of the notable projects were a new, efficient police headquarters downtown, a completely re-built Glenville School, the extraordinary Music Instructional Space and Auditorium at Greenwich High, and an all-new large Central Fire House.  We re-used an old unused industrial site to create the peaceful waterfront Cos Cob Park.  We completely rebuilt the Hamilton Avenue School.  The Byram Park was completely updated last summer with the addition of one of the finest municipal pools anywhere. The spectacular brand new New Lebanon School opened last month.  These major projects were supplemented by many millions more in routine paving, bridge repair, sewer and drainage projects, radiators, boilers, roofs, flooring, bathrooms, doors, windows, electrical systems, plumbing, lighting, vehicles and other brand-new additions to our excellent infrastructure.

We financed these projects either from cash reserves or with our successful borrowing policy of short maturities. Our general practice is to borrow over seven years:  a one-year note rolled over to a second year, followed by a five year bond.  The clear advantage of this approach is that the debt is rapidly retired.   There is little debt overhang.   Our taxes are modest, a benefit to everyone.

Recently, some have offered a suggestion to lengthen our debts.   This is not in our interest.

The benefits of short maturities are clear: the debt burden is minimized.  For example, the largest portions of the bonding for MISA were in 2014 (fully repaid by now), 2015 (four-fifths repaid by now) and 2016 (three-fifths repaid).  The new Police Station?  Paid off.  The Central Fire House?  More than half paid off.  The Cos Cob and Byram Parks?  Well on their way to repayment.

If the Town had borrowed for longer maturities, the taxpayer would still be facing millions in taxes and debts on this new infrastructure.   Instead, we own it, free and clear.  By a thoughtful use of short maturities, we’ve built high-quality facilities while avoiding excessive debts, the bane of any government.  And by promptly retiring debt on yesterday’s projects, our Town has a strong capacity to build the infrastructure of the future.

Bill Drake, Republican member, Board of Estimate and Taxation