Warren City Council could vote as early as Wednesday on whether to borrow up to $24.5 million. Rushing so quickly could be one of the most egregious mistakes in city history.
Such a massive increase in the city's debt should require meticulous evaluation. While the city's leaders have provided much more details than when the bond was first proposed last year, still greater data is needed to make a sound decision.
Council has six ordinances on its lap. They represent an itemized list of projects for which the city would borrow money. Council could pass none, any or all. Here's a sampling of the proposals and just a few concerns about each:
$10.5 million to construct a one-stop building to house Water, Building, Community Development, Operations, Law and Computer departments and City Hall offices. Details still missing are reports that show the search of existing structures and why building new is preferable; times and places for the public and council to review the needs assessments of each of the departments that helped determine the building and property size; an effort to share space and cost with other governments, especially Trumbull County commissioners who need a place for the Planning Commission, vehicle maintenance and other departments.
$2.625 million for street construction, reconstruction and resurfacing. Since this is expected to address 40 percent of the city's needed street repairs, missing is a plan for the other 60 percent and ongoing street maintenance.
$580,000 for a fire truck. The city is on the verge of laying off firefighters being paid through a federal grant that is about to expire. Buying a new vehicle doesn't seem prudent if the city has to close fire stations and idle vehicles because there aren't enough employees to use them.
There are some over-arching questions city council should consider before making a decision on any of the ordinances.
One, an existing loan will be paid off next year and thus the $800,000 payment becomes available. Perhaps it's better to put that directly into capital improvements rather than more interest payments and broker fees for the next 27 years.
Two, the city has millions of dollars in unfunded liabilities in the form of severance pay to retiring employees. Warren will get hit especially hard this year and next because several police officers and firefighters are in the final year of the state's deferred pension plan. It might be better to get the financial house in order before taking on more debt.
Even worse, there is grave concern that the bonds are needed to make payroll.
City council and taxpayers have more information about the borrowing than they did a year ago, but there's still no need to rush into such a long-term, high-impact decision.