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Our View: Council can keep project on budget target

Published: Wednesday, Sept. 12, 2012 5:30 a.m. CDT

When it comes to borrowing money, the temptation always exists to get a little bit more.

The DeKalb City Council has done just that to some extent with its decision on how much to borrow to pay for a new police station. After saying all along it would borrow no more than $12 million for the station’s construction, aldermen Monday authorized borrowing as much as $12.7 million, adding an extra year to the repayment schedule to make it an even 20 years.

Although the city can borrow and spend $12.7 million, aldermen should keep in mind that nothing compels them to take it to the limit. Yes, interest rates can fluctuate, underwriting a municipal bond issue costs money, and unforeseen circumstances can lead large-scale projects to exceed budget.

But, as First Ward Alderman David Jacobson pointed out at the council’s meeting, the council set the limit for the project at $12 million “from Day One,” and there’s no reason for it to allow the project to cost more.

The goal, as with any building project, should be “on time and under budget.”

However, the council did do the prudent thing by avoiding using the planned bond sale to borrow money for other projects as well.

Not that aldermen didn’t have the opportunity. There were intersection improvements at Route 38 and Peace Road for which the city could seek a federal matching grant.

Two city firehouses also are in need of upgrades. Station No. 2 has cramped living quarters for firefighters and an inadequate electrical system, and Station No. 3 also is in need of maintenance.

Those are worthy projects, but they would have added about $2 million to the amount the city borrowed. Piggybacking them on the bond sale for the new police station doesn’t seem like the right course for the city, especially if officials are worried the police station project could exceed the $12 million they expected to pay.

Taking care of the planned project now and dealing with the fire station issues in a few months, as the board has agreed to do, seems like the right course for now.

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