We 'disapprove' of charter amendment

Vote no on draconian measure, which will hamstring city government, cause ill effects

 By Ken Esten Cooke— Trust in government is very low in many quarters, and the upcoming charter amendment election shows that it has seeped far past the federal level and into local ranks.

But the upcoming charter amendment election asking voters to call an election each time money is transferred between  budget accounts, is both unneeded and an overreaction to legitimate concerns.

Much of it stems from the way the city’s golf course and its renovation were funded. Shortfalls were routinely covered by transfers from utility fund surpluses, and a loan was made from another department to fund the course’s renovation, which the city viewed as an underperforming asset.

With changes, the golf course is currently performing better than in the past, yet it still is an asset that requires maintenance, and, yes, more than a tennis court or baseball field.

Solutions

Organizers for this effort collected signatures, but then refused to listen to any fixes proposed and instituted by city officials. While we are sympathetic to a point, we feel the proposed “solution” is overkill.

The city’s fixes include no more transfers from utility funds (additional needs are now covered from the general fund), as well as the addition of a public hearing before any funds would be transferred from a utility fund. City fathers have been proactive in finding a solution to these concerns.

Also, a little perspective is needed. There has been zero illegal activity involved here.

Yet, these citizens pushing for the amendment may bring the unintended effect of hamstringing the city government. Expensive elections every May and November would have to be held to let the city run its business the way every other city across the state does.

Ill effects

Also at issue is the very serious issue of revenue loss to the city, which would be made up by — guess who? — the taxpayers. Utilities such as cable and phone companies currently pay the city a fee for using right-of-ways and streets. Conversely, city utilities — electric and water — make a payment in lieu of fees, amounting to roughly $1.5 million annually. If the amendment passes, that could be perceived as a “transfer” and subject to a vote.

Also, bond payments, for which the city is liable until 2033, are funded by enterprise funds. Those may not be allowed until all bonds are paid in full.      

The ballot

The language on the ballot asks voters to “approve” a change to the city charter, which would be the first in its 24-year history, or “disapprove.”

We strongly suggest voters disapprove, lest we have city workers second-guessing and consulting attorneys about every expenditure, wondering if they will be subject to legal action.

While they may have been well-intentioned, this group of amendment election organizers did not field a candidate who shares their views. As the newspaper noted last week, each council and mayoral candidate, all of whom have city council experience, oppose the amendment.

We have run several letters to the editor from the amendment’s proponents as these commentary pages are one good venue for the marketplace of ideas.

But this is simply a bad idea. Those who think the city is not run well have a chance each May to turn over positions and bring the accountability they desire.

Vote to disapprove the change to the charter amendment on May 10, or during early voting.

Election schedule: 

• Early voting April 28-May 6, City Hall (upstairs). 8:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m., Monday through Friday; 8:30 a.m.-8:30 p.m., Tuesdays, April 29 and May 6.

• Regular voting is Saturday, May 10, 7 a.m.-7 p.m., at Fredericksburg Middle School cafeteria.

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