Proposal to change City Charter on November ballot
by Walker County News Today staff
As most local residents know, part of what the citizens and businesses of Huntsville pay for in both property and sales taxes (as well as in their monthly water bills) goes to pay for debt that City Hall has taken on in their name.
Much of this is long-term debt, usually taking 25-40 years to pay back. For example, the City is still paying off roughly $40 Million in debt that it took on, without voter approval, about 20 years ago. That debt was used to pay for Raven Nest Golf Course, Veteran’s Memorial Boulevard and the Robinson Creek Sewer Plant. For those, and and for other reasons, the City of Huntsville is still carrying about $24 Million in old long-term debt.
Now, in addition to that old debt, City Hall just last month took on another $53 Million in long-term debt to pay for a number of water and wastewater projects. Council considers the debt to have been authorized by the voters in the November 2016 Municipal Bond Election. There is the potential for another $75 million in debt resulting from that election.
When we add up those numbers and add 25 years or so worth of interest we can see that the total potential liability that City Hall has taken on approaches or exceeds $200 million. That is a substantial amount of debt for a city with a lot of other potentially costly problems and a real taxpaying population of only around 7,500 families and 30,000 people.
Yet Huntsville’s City Council is now getting ready to ask the citizens for more. At the last Council meeting on July 17, the Council decided to call for a City Charter Election in November and include in the list of proposed changes one that would allow it to take on considerably more long-term debt without voter approval.
The proposal would eliminate a current requirement in the Charter that the City get voter approval for any debt that exceeds .2 of 1% of the assessed value of all taxable property in the City. Since that amount is currently about $1.6 billion, the amount of any new debt, without voter approval, is limited to about $3.2 million, which is still a significant amount of money.
The current Charter limitation was put in place by the voters of Huntsville in 2009 as a way to protect themselves against higher taxes and water bills for projects that they might consider to be unnecessary or excessive. Submitting those questions to a popular vote would allow the people themselves to decide the issue.