GUEST COLUMN: Republican council kept promise on debt

Russ Jehl

Campaigning politicians and their political parties routinely make big promises that they hope voters forget the next election cycle.

Four years ago, the voters entrusted Republicans with a supermajority of the city council. At the first meeting, we publicly challenged ourselves to leave the city’s finances in better shape than the condition we received them. This challenge was especially bold considering the business community had hired a consultant to find more pockets of public money to increase debt and spending, and the re-elected mayor by no means had a reputation of being thrifty.

Nevertheless, council has kept its promise of handling the city’s finances responsibly. While fully funding the city’s vital services, expanding the police force and adding firefighters, increasing parks improvements, and overall boosting infrastructure funding, council has also led in reducing almost a quarter of its debt.

In fact, 23 percent of the civil city debt will be retired by the end of the term. Don’t get me wrong, as a conservative I am disappointed that we’ve lost some recent fiscal battles, but this accomplishment is especially worthy of note.

As the city’s fiscal body, one of council’s primary responsibilities is overseeing the civil city budget and its corresponding debt. At the beginning of this term, we inherited $167 million of debt and are projected to end the term with $128 million, a reduction of $39 million.

The civil city’s finances had been highly leveraged and were close to the debt limit just seven years ago. With the debt being chipped away, the civil city debt capacity has increased fivefold from the dangerously close $7 million debt limit that council inherited when the public first entrusted Republicans with a supermajority in 2012. This positive fiscal news might feel counterintuitive. It’s absolutely true that debt has risen in other fiscal areas outside the civil city funds (redevelopment, city utilities, etc.) where the administration decisively leads and council has less statutory influence.

This council and its Republican majority promised to lead in a fiscally responsible fashion. Working collaboratively within divided government, it has fully funded the city and financially fueled its recent successes while also retiring 23 percent of the civil city debt. At the end of the term, this council will pass on a city in better fiscal condition than which it received.

We hope that the voters take notice and again entrust Republicans with the honor of guiding the city’s finances. These successes can be extended to all parts of city government if a Republican is elected mayor. However, if we are again installed within a divided government a Republican council will continue to tap the brakes on excessive spending by the administration and lead with fiscally responsible policies.

Russ Jehl is a Republican city councilman who represents District 2.