Town hall is gearing up for a referendum on the proposed purchase of the Garcia property.
The town clerk's office is putting together the paperwork, though no request for the material had been made at press time.
The town council agreed to purchase the Garcia property at a special meeting Oct. 15. The purchase price is $660,000. To finance the deal, it was bundled with several other projects requiring the town to seek a $3 million loan.
The initial plan was to authorize emergency action to obligate sales tax revenues over the next 15 years to pay back the loan. The emergency clause raised red flags for a large number of residents, and many attended the Oct. 15 meeting and expressed concerns about the purchase and opposition to making the purchase an emergency.
Mayor Ken Murphy gave voice to those concerns when he said the emergency clause in the resolution language made it appear the town was trying to "circumvent the people's right of protest through a referendum."
Since the town council has been talking about buying the Garcia property for a number of years, to suddenly make it an emergency to purchase it does lend an air of suspicion to the deal. It would not be unreasonable to ask if the town is suddenly in a hurry to make the deal, is there something someone is trying to hide?
We agree with Murphy, making the deal an emergency takes away the public's right to have a voice through a referendum. Still, the reason provided for the emergency clause seems sound.
By making the financing an emergency, the town can take advantage of the favorable loan rates and get the best deal for the public's money. The rates are about 4.5 percent for the largest part of the bundle of projects and five percent for the minor part.
With the successful launch of a referendum campaign, the town would have its hands tied until after an election, which probably could not be held until May.
Even with voter approval of the purchase, the town would most likely lose its chance at the low loan rates. Saving the money for the deal, the town would only earn around two percent interest, and in the time it would take to save the money, if the seller would wait that long, the cost would certainly escalate.
An example of escalating costs can be seen with one of the projects bundled with the purchase the construction of a new maintenance facility. When originally proposed about three years ago, the cost was estimated at between $330,000 and $450,000. That same project will now cost the town $750,000.
Imagine what a $660,000 purchase in 2002 would cost in 2017 at that rate of increase.
Yes, the public should have the right of referendum on any decision made by the council, especially where the public's money is concerned. But the long view should also be kept in mind.
Will forcing a delay be a sound financial decision? Will putting off action needed today result in a worse scenario tomorrow?
The purchase of the Garcia property is needed to facilitate the construction of drainage controls in the American Gulch. Without the drainage controls, will property and lives be put in harm's way when El Niloods return, resulting in even greater costs for recovery and restoration?
The right of referendum is important, but so is working toward a better future for this community, even if we are not all here to enjoy it.