May 14, 2020 10:38:50 AM
More than a century ago, British essaying G.K. Chesterton made an observation that is even more true now than then: "New roads, new ruts," he quipped.
On Tuesday, the West Point Board of Selectmen authorized $2.25 million general obligation bonds to improve and pave city streets. It's the second time the city has issued bonds for street repairs in three years and selectmen acknowledge the latest bonds still won't address all of the needed paving.
As we've said many times on these pages, we believe borrowing money for routine road paving is generally a terrible practice. Bonds should be issued for specific, unique projects rather than on recurring needs that should have a reliable and consistent source of funding. As Chesterton noted, where there are streets, there are always going to be costs in maintaining those streets. A typical paving project is good for seven-to-10 years, which means when a city issues a 15-year bond, it's paying for something that is no longer viable. It's like making payments on a car that has already been sent to the junkyard.
West Point is just the latest Golden Triangle city to turn to bonds to pay for street paving. Columbus, for example, is still paying off balances totaling more than $15 million for bonds issued for street work in 2010, 2014 and 2016 and is considering another round of paving, estimated at $6.5 million.
Starkville has also issued bonds for street repaving.
We're not stating that it never makes sense to borrow money for roads, but this practice of routinely doing so is unsustainable.
Columbus officials are looking for alternate ways to help fund this latest road project, including using internet sales tax to pay off bonds funds used for this latest repaving project.
The revenue, approved by the Legislature last year, will give municipalities funds to pay for road maintenance and infrastructure. The city will receive $250,000 from the collections this year, and the amount will double each year until it reaches an estimated $923,000 in 2023.
We applaud such efforts. That money could help pay off repaving bonds far earlier than their maturity or could be used to fund a systematic approach to maintaining city roads.
Each year, cities budget for a wide variety of known expenses. Street maintenance budgets do not cover the cost of repaving, however, even though it's common knowledge that paving is a regular and recurring necessity.
It's time for cities to take a realistic approach to meeting these needs. A dedicated source of funding should be a priority.
Borrowing money should be reserved for long-term infrastructure projects, the promotion of growth and enhancement of quality of life.
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