$700 million city debt concerns watchdog group - KCBD NewsChannel 11 Lubbock

10/26/09

$700 million city debt concerns watchdog group

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By Ann Wyatt Little  - bio | email

LUBBOCK, TX (KCBD) - The city's debt has nearly doubled in just three years and that has one local watchdog group concerned. Lubbock taxpayers are on the way to being $1 billion in debt according to the taxpayer watchdog group Spartan or South Plains Area Taxpayer Network.

A large percentage of the city's debt is set aside to making sure water gets to Lubbock. The city says right now that $1 billion figure may be misleading.

"We're just getting up there really high," says Mikel Ward and she's talking about the city's debt.

"Since it's been over $1 billion it has been worrying me. We are assuming a lot more debt than maybe we can pay back in the future," she adds. She got that figure from the City's Budget Office by adding the principal for current debts which is just under $700 million and the interest on those debts which is around $310 million.

Councilman Paul Beane says that math may be misleading. "To talk about an excessive bond debt just over $682 million is a far cry from $1 billion," he says. Ward counters by saying the city plans to borrow more money soon. If the November 3rd bond election passes plus the nearly $168 million for various projects including a water pipeline between Lubbock and Lake Alan Henry the city will have debts just short of $946 million.

Beane says the city's budget is half a billion dollars per year and most of the bond debt is self supporting

"For water or sewer projects the debts on bonds are paid for by our citizens for by the charges on water and sewer services," says Beane. Wall Street determines the city's bond rating and Beane says the current strong rating shows Lubbock is on track. "If there was a hint, especially in these troubled financial time that we have nationally and across the state...if there was a hint of any problems Lubbock wouldn't be enjoying bond ratings that we have today," says the councilman.  

Ward hopes the numbers don't fall too far in the red. "I don't want to mimic what is going on in Washington as far as just increasing and increasing our debt," adds Ward.

"We have started chasing water projects and that is great down the line, but we are picking up the tab right now through fees," says Ward. A tab Beane says taxpayers are covering.

"You pay the tab for your children and great grand kids. We have to continue to grow," says Beane.

If bond election passes then 5 cents would be added to the overall tax rate. Currently for every 100 dollars you pay 44.6 cents and just over 8 cents of that goes to pay off bond debt.

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