Our View: Kudos for budget adherence, but let's leave room for creativity




During Tuesday's city council meeting, members voted 4-2 against submitting a grant application required to designate an historic Southside neighborhood as a Local Historic District.


The designation would require any new construction, additions or renovations made to the portions of the property in street view in the area to comply with a city ordinance designed to maintain the historic integrity of the neighborhood. The LDH designation, as it is known, has been granted to 55 neighborhoods in the state, including the downtown historic district of Columbus (approved in 1996) with the support of the Mississippi Department of Archives and History.


The grant sought by homeowners in the affected area would provide funds for a required survey of the area to determine how many buildings would be affected. It is a federal grant requiring a 50/50 match. The city's cost would likely be in the neighborhood of $5,000 to $6,000, depending ultimately on the number of buildings included in the survey.



In voting against the application, the majority cited the cost as their primary objection.


It would be inconsistent for us to criticize the council's commitment to adhering to its budget now when we spared no criticism of the council for its lack of due diligence just a year ago when the city ran up a deficit of $880,000 and was forced to enact a spending freeze, borrow money and raises taxes to put its fiscal ship in order.


Tuesday's vote suggests that the council has been chastened and is committed to living within its means. No one can reasonably argue that this is not a good practice.


However, Tuesday's decision points to an unintended consequence of taking so hard a line on un-budgeted spending.


Wile we ask our city leaders to be good stewards of our tax dollars, we also expect them to exercise good judgment and creativity. Not all un-budgeted expenditures are bad ideas. In fact, there is a danger in some cases that drawing a hard line against such spending can be an exercise in being "penny-wise and pound-foolish."


Although un-budgeted, we believe finding the money for this survey works in the best interest of our community.


Columbus has a proud reputation of valuing and preserving its history. In fact, there are few communities in our state who can boast the rich cultural history we enjoy here. Its presence has been a major component of our tourism history. Reasonable efforts to preserve and enhance that history is a wise investment.


Some might argue that this is no urgent matter, that the application can be made once it's formally in the budget. Yet how urgent it is may depend on the next building permit issued in the neighborhood. That could be tomorrow or 10 years from now. Better to act now than tempt fate.


The relatively small sum of $5,000 to $6,000 could surely be found and reallocated from another line item.


Let's put that $6,000 in context. That sum represents less than one percent of the city's budgeted surplus and a microscopic 0.025 percent of the 2020 budget. It is also 20 percent of the money allowed for city council/mayor travel.


We applaud the council's commitment to fiscal restraint. But we also encourage flexibility when such achievable opportunities arise that could benefit our community.


We do not believe that being fiscally conservative and being creative in managing the budget are mutually exclusive. You can bend too far either in either direction.




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