New Bedford Capital Plan Loan Delayed
NEW BEDFORD — An $11 million loan order to borrow money for a capital improvement plan that would see public safety funding and repairs for roads in New Bedford has been delayed.
The loan order totals $11.17 million, which would go towards police, fire, and EMS equipment and upgrades as well as improvements to New Bedford city buildings and infrastructure, including $3 million for road and sidewalk repairs.
On Thursday, the city council voted 7-2 to send the measure back to the finance committee — just a week after the committee voted to refer the order back to the full city council for a vote.
Only Ward 3 councilor Hugh Dunn and Ward 6 councilor Ryan Pereira voted against the delay.
The city council's finance committee is made up of all 11 New Bedford city councilors.
But two councilors were absent for the July 13 Finance Committee meeting — notably councilor-at-large Linda Morad, who filled in for City Council President Ian Abreu in the full council meeting on Thursday.
Morad told her fellow councilors that despite supporting the Capital Investment Plan, she still had a few questions about some of the specific projects being funded.
“I’m not looking…to delay this item," Morad said. "But I am looking to have some conversation about several of the items that are being presented to us as part of the CIP."
Meanwhile Mayor Jon Mitchell said he was surprised by last week's decision — especially given rising interest rates, which mean that delays could end up costing the city more.
"The city council for whatever reason decided to delay the authorization of this borrowing, and to my mind, it’s just a total surprise and a total head scratcher," he said, stressing that the items are likely to have full public support.
"I think they need to explain to the public why it is that they are not moving as quickly as possible to go out and approve spending for roads and for public safety equipment. These are two high priorities."
"The longer the city council delays this, the more expensive it is going to be for the city to get these things done," the mayor added.
At Thursday's City Council meeting, councilor-at-large Naomi Carney also expressed reservations about taking out an $11 million loan.
She said the council has approved a number of loan orders recently, including a recent $119 million loan for extensive sewer and drain system improvements.
"This administration has been putting bonds before us day in and day out, and we've been approving it," she said.
"The taxes went up. Everything's gone up, and everybody's — 'Oh, it's only 12 dollars here, ten dollars there,'" she said. "Are we gonna nickel and dime our city residents into debt?"
But Mitchell said Carney's concerns with the city debt and the number of loan orders don't "jibe with reality."
"Policy targets of the city are to have 6% or less outstanding debt as a percentage of per capita income," he said. "With this borrowing, we’ll be at about 5%. So we’ll be underneath our own cap, which itself is a modest cap."
Morad said that while she supports the CIP overall, she would like to see more discussion on it.
"With all those department heads sitting in the room all ready to tell you about those projects, the council president made a motion to refer the item to the full city council without any discussion," she said.
"That motion was quickly seconded, end of conversation, adjourn the meeting," she added. "That’s not the way the city council should do business.
But the mayor said that since the city council only meets once in August, councilors have effectively pushed the loan order back into the fall.
"The department heads and certainly I were all frustrated with the council’s lack of urgency on the matter," he said.
"These are things that we all want," Mitchell added. "But the longer we wait, the more it’s gonna cost."