Our View: Hands untied, city needs to make up lost time

September 2, 2018

The state-imposed spending limitation on city government has been lifted with passage of Lake Havasu City’s Prop. 409.

It would be a mistake for either city officials, whether elected or appointed, or for city residents, to view approval as an open and unlimited checkbook. It’s not a new pot of gold. Passage of Prop. 409 allows money that is already budgeted and collected to be spent.

That said, the spending limitation that tied officials’ hands also let them kick the can down the road for the past year or so. Projects, plans, initiatives, etc., sat on political hold as city government awaited word on whether it could proceed or whether it would be cutting services and laying off people.

Prop. 409 was approved by a huge majority. Its passage was a mandate, but for what? In reality, it was a mandate to simply conduct business as usual.

Passage doesn’t, for example, provide a pot of money to address pay compression issues for firefighters, who have sought through their own political electioneering to set themselves apart from other city employees on the compensation front.

Pay compression isn’t limited to public employees who organize to donate to political campaigns, nor even to public employees. It’s in the private sector, too, and isn’t easily solved.

One thing the city will do on that front is pay millions of dollars more for firefighter and other public safety employees’ pensions. Local government took over paying unfunded portions of the pension plans when pensions were reworked by Arizona voters.

New ongoing spending? Pensions are the big item, though the city covered its payments this year by borrowing at additional cost. Viewed that way, the city will save some money on interest expense.

Other approved city improvement spending plans should move ahead post-haste after sitting still for a year or so.

Remember Havasu Riviera State Park, with its completed new launch ramps that are unopened due to an incomplete access road and highway traffic signal?

Remember Vision 20/20, an ambitious economic development plan that included a public/private gathering space downtown and multiple other components?

Those are but two of the projects in the city’s capital projects plan. It’s time to move forward on those, and others, while openly addressing public comments, questions and concerns involving each of them.

The city’s spending limitation help keep momentum in check but it also provided a lot of political cover during the election season. The coal is back in the tinderbox and it’s time to see how well the city can drive the train to the next stop.

— Today’s News-Herald

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