Debt, great for businesses, poison for governments.

A lot of politicians tout business experience; I certainly do.

I like using business techniques to get into numbers, look at cash inflows and outflows, do projections, gauge trade offs between short and long term costs, estimate interest rates and risks, judge the stability of some revenue source and the like. But Kentwood is not a business.

A businessman borrows at let’s say 5% (market rates, the perceived risk) and invests in inventory, equipment, speculation or whatever, hoping that his return will be 10%, so allowing him to retire the debt and to continue borrowing and making money.

Kentwood and the city commission are not in the money making business; we have only to run a city on behalf of citizens who trust us to maintain the streets, maintain public safety with police and fire, provide for some recreational opportunities and allow them to seek their own happiness in a peaceful manner. We have no mandate to make life better, to provide jobs, business opportunities or to entertain and inspire the taxpayers in Kentwood.

Taxpayers (renters pay for city services indirectly) should however pay for the streets and public services that they need for a civilized life.

If a townhall, library, firehouse and Hall of Justice are necessary, then these should be provided at the least cost for the involuntary users. They should not erected for the edification of politicians who put their names on the brass plaques. The city should provide only those facilities that function efficiently for the city employees and that can easily be accommodated for future needs.

Kentwood had no debts and some decrepit governmental buildings until 12 years ago when the flash inspiration to rebuild swept away thrift. We built 4 contemporary buildings on an otherwise empty patch with a few apartments, an abandoned church and a toxic waste dump on the horizon. Total cost, over 20 million. There were no businesses or other reason for most of us in Kentwood to go near the place. About tastes there must be no dispute, but I’m unimpressed. None of my neigbors knows where the city complex is, so I can’t get their opinion about fluff like inspiration and public involvement.

A very long pole barn would have been much cheaper, could be easily accommodated to the shifting needs of government and would fit in with the numerous assembly, manufacturing and distributors’ buildings around the airport. Why would the city government want to look better than its best taxpayers?

The point is that we borrowed and now have to pay for something that few of those who pay would buy. There is no market demand, no hope for profit or great outpouring of public enthusiasm for the governmental complex. No business or homeowner has ever moved to Kentwood because of love of great rococo architecture or for the view.

Borrowing capacity is necessary for governments to fund unexpected emergencies and the function must be retained and carefully nurtured. Our citizens should pay for what they need and nothing more. I doubt that many would fritter away the margin of safety in being able to borrow when the crunch is severe for having trendy buildings and the millstone of debt.

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