Tomorrow, Tuesday 11 October 2011, voters in Raleigh will not only choose between local electoral candidates, but we will also have a say in a bond for both a transportation bond and an affordable housing bond.
I can honestly say, for the first time, I am seriously considering voting NO on both bonds.
Some argue – with valid points – that Raleigh is strengthened by these bonds. Bicycle lanes will be built, greenways bettered, and, as New Raleigh reports, help “those living in poverty to buy their first home”. The total of voting yes on these bonds should cost the average Raleighite about $17 a year to their property taxes.
So why would any decent human being vote no for such things? Could it be that I want tornado victims to stay homeless and public transportation to stay unreliable at best?
I simply feel that it is the wrong choice. I feel like we taxpayers are already paying this, and will, no doubt pay more in soon-to-come tax raises and new bonds. I feel like we JUST approved these bonds, which we are now paying for. I feel like people who have daily $4 lattes think this is a good idea. I feel like people who have absolutely nothing but dream of walking around with their daily $4 latte think this is a good idea (I say confidently, because I was once that person).
I feel like now is a big NO.
Here’s a Bob Geary article in IndyWeek.com that shares how the city is ALWAYS raising taxes and ALWAYS hitting up for NEW transportation and affordable housing bonds. This article was written in 2006. Yet, here we are… and will be again in just a few years.
Last Autumn, Charlotte, NC faced the same bonds question for both a transportation bond and affordable housing bond. Neither passed. Opposing board members pointed out various reasons for voting no in their community:
… While individual opinions varied, the majority sentiment was that despite the many important needs addressed by these bonds, the current economy and last 2 years of City Council spending on non-priorities outweighed the benefits…
StrengthenCharlotte board member Clay Lewis pointed out after his personal research, “no information was provided as to why these are unable to be funded through ‘pay as you go’ means – none appear to be unanticipated surprises, they are basic upkeep or standard run-of-the-mill activities, the things you’d expect would be budgeted and planned for out of tax revenues. Long-term interest rates are incredibly low, which sweetens the deal a bit but provides a false sense of security – cost of capital cannot singularly determine course of action.” Allan Schmitt also made the point that “the federal government has provided states and municipalities with significant funds for transportation over the past 12 months. The city has wasted much of this money on projects that I see as having no real benefit to the community (i.e., streetcar).”
Reasons members will vote AGAINST Bonds:
· “If there is a shortfall on selling these bonds (and there always is), the taxpayers are on the hook for it.”
· “We must get spending under control and prioritized.”
· “If I understand properly, General Obligation funds come from property taxes. The value of properties has lessened, but the city has increased property taxes. So in fact, it sounds like a tax increase. I am in no mood to vote for one more bond in the 21st century, with 20th century paradigms.”
· “The city wastes a ton of money… they will not get permission to borrow (or tax) any more from me. If projects are truly deserving they can find the money by cutting something useless… like our many train projects.”
· “$79.2mil requested and approved back in 2006, this represents a near doubling in just 4 years’ time.
We had the 2005 bonds… nice.
Honestly, though, atop the fact I already felt like this is not the time to ask property owners to happily accept yet another increase in their taxes while we still cannot see a lot of the promised results from the last bonds (and if you rent, don’t be foolish enough to believe you aren’t paying this increase in taxes, too – your rental management is not simply going to eat that cost!), I then got last Sunday’s Midtown Raleigh News insert in my News and Observer.
Ever since Sonia Johnson moved to Raleigh in 1995, she dreamed of finding a place to live downtown – in easy walking distance to her favorite restaurants, parks and entertainment spots.
But there was one problem: Johnson, who makes a modest income as a freelance writer, could not afford any of the glittering condo and apartment towers that have risen downtown in the past decade.
Then she found Carlton Place…
…”I couldn’t even believe my luck,” said Johnson. “I had always wanted to live downtown, but at the time, there was not a lot of affordable housing. All these things that were about to go up were like $1 million.”
Johnson likes the big windows overlooking an oak tree. She feels safe in a building with locked exterior doors that only open when guests are buzzed in by residents.
And she loves the two-block walk to City Market, where she checks out the farmers’ market and eats at Woody’s restaurant.
At a time when federal support for affordable housing is declining, advocates say Raleigh’s local programs are even more critical to meet the needs of limited-income families and seniors.
SERIOUSLY? I am supposed to feel compassion for people who’ve dreamed of owning a “glittering condo” with “big windows overlooking an oak tree” and a “two-block walk to City Market, where [they check] out the farmers’ market and [eat] at Woody’s restaurant”?
In the last year, I became a first time homeowner. My husband and I live on one income. He works hard, and I mean he hauls ass every single night at his job, to provide for us. We rarely eat out, we do not upgrade our cars to the newer models, and we do not go to $40 concerts at Raleigh’s much hyped downtown ampitheater. Not because we are destitute, but because we prioritized over the years that we would like not to be in debt, not to burden others, not to live off social programs, and all while saving money so we could actually buy our own home and start a family.
Needless to say, last year when we reviewed our finances and talked with a mortgage lender, we knew what we could pay for a home. The bank tried convincing us we could afford twice what we thought we could. That ought to be illegal – as we know the life we can afford more than a lender.
Our ability to buy a home did not mean, however, that we could buy the home we “dreamed” of. This is a first-time home buyer. What happened to starter houses?
Even with the “starter-house” mentality, we still bought a much bigger home in a nicer neighborhood, much more in the city of Raleigh than we anticipated being able to afford. This is a matter of falling property values across the industry and a huge play of God-granted luck, but here we are.
We never bothered to be delusional enough to believe that we could afford a nice home downtown were we could walk to everything. We also would have not been so delusional as to think that if we ask the rest of the property owners of Raleigh to pay for us to live there, that meant we could remotely afford to eat at or go to any of those things within walking distance! To me, this seems like the very same delusional gimme attitudes that have our economy in the exact situation it is in!
I am angry that this woman is a proudly sporting a philosophy of fantasy-land thinking that everyone else in the city gets to shoulder. Affordable housing exists – just maybe not in the cool, hip, trendy, Sex in the City settings you dream, and maybe not as large as you wanted. But get a grip on reality, please!
Critics of government spending argue Raleigh shouldn’t continue to borrow money while the economy sputters.
The city’s total debt is $1.38 billion – four times the amount it had a decade ago. The borrowed money paid for road improvements, water and sewer plants, parks and greenways, and a new downtown convention center.
Only about 10 percent of the city’s general governmental fund goes to pay the general fund debt service – a smaller ratio than Charlotte, Winston-Salem and Greensboro.
“We have enough debt,” said Paul Fitts, a candidate for an at-large City Council seat. “I don’t think we need to borrow any more.”
Now, while I am all for bicycle and pedestrian safety, as well as help for tornado victims from this past Spring, I simply do not believe we can blanket this rather large, more complicated decision with a dreamy-eyed, idealistic “yes”.
But the upcoming bond initiatives are “very modest,” Councilman Russ Stephenson said.
Voters approved an $88 million parks and greenway bond just four years ago.
“We’re not even trying to do parks this time,” Stephenson recently told an audience of seniors in North Raleigh.
Wow, Mr. Stephenson. That really puts me at ease. You sound like a seasoned politician, for sure, shrugging it off so easily.
How are you voting on the bonds? How did you vote on the past bonds (I voted yes then)? What are you debating about this election in these last 24 hours?
PS. Here is Raleigh’s link to some more information for both bonds.