Battle of the Bonds

In the world of Fairfield County government, apparently, there are bonds and then there are bonds. There are the quiet, unassuming bonds, from which taxpayers perceive no pain and that coast right through channels without so much as a bug on their windshield, and then there are the bonds that appear to hit every bumper on the pinball table, ringing every bell and setting off every alarm while the numbers tick off on the scoreboard.

While Fairfield County Council’s $24.06 million bond that soared through first reading March 25 is clearly a bond of the first order, the $20 million bond green-lighted by the Fairfield County School Board in February continues to raise the kind of hue and cry that, had it been heard in Egypt some 3,000 years ago, might have finally persuaded Pharaoh to send Moses and his kinsmen packing for good.

We have previously in this space elucidated the need for and our support of construction of a new career and technology center, for which much of the District’s $20 million bond is devoted, and we stand by that position. The existing career center is consistently the best performing school in the entire District, yet is embarrassingly out of date in its technological capabilities and has suffered from such neglect and disrepair that it is more suited for the landscape of Berlin, circa 1945, than Winnsboro, circa 2013. Still, the letters continue to pour in and the comments continue to post on our Web site, all voicing strong opposition to the tax increase associated with the bond. And we understand and respect that point of view. No one likes paying taxes, and no one likes those taxes going up. But we must also accept the reality that taxes are the cost of living in a society, and there are some things on which money must be spent in order for us to live in that society.

Schools, for one thing, are cheaper to build and less expensive to maintain than prisons, and without adequate examples of the former we are most assuredly going to be in need of more and more of the latter. If a temporary tax increase might keep Little Tony Soprano and his thug-mates from breaking into your home, or smashing out the windows on your car, can you really afford not to pay it? With study after study placing the School District at the top of the list of impediments to economic development in Fairfield County, can we really afford to defer construction for six or seven or eight more years, until the V.C. Summer Golden Goose drops that first 24-carat egg?

Should the School Board have held a referendum before voting on the bond issue? Perhaps; but since they were not legally required to do so, it would have been a genuine waste of taxpayer dollars. And going before County Council to ask for their blessing was also not a legal requirement, although the Council has since made some noise questioning the Board’s wisdom in, and ability to, issue the bond.

The County has also made certain overtures to the Board, requesting a public sit-down – not for the Board to kiss the County’s ring, but so that Council members will know what to say to their constituents, who are rattling their cages day and night. So far, the Board has refused, offering instead a private meeting between respective administrators.

While we would like to see these two parties get on the same page, we would also like to see it happen out in the open. Fences, after all, are best mended in the light of day.

Council, meanwhile, has its own bond issue. Not a new bond, mind you, but a “rolling over,” or “refinancing,” of bonds issued in 2009. The good news is that it won’t affect your millage rates. But that’s also the bad news: your taxes won’t be going back to what they were before.

The County has a pretty hefty grocery list of how this money is to be spent – continued development of the two industrial parks, water and sewer along the I-77 corridor, recreational parks in each district and plans to keep the Courthouse and Administration buildings from burning to the ground because of faulty wiring. All of it, in one way or another, makes Fairfield more attractive to prospective industry. And so does a new career center.

These things are not alien to one another, but go hand in hand to make Fairfield a better place to be. And the associated millage rates are not punitive. They are, instead, an investment.

An investment that averages out to an additional $20.30 per month in taxes.