Friday, July 13, 2012

Larry the Cable Guy is booked at the Iowa State Fair. The internationally known Nebraska comedian most certainly will roll out his signature line, “Git ‘er done,” a few dozen times to fans in the East Des Moines grandstands who will have paid $35 a seat to laugh and cheer in uproarious fashion at the predictable punchline.

Perhaps Larry could stick around the Hawkeye State for two more weeks, and in full cut-off flanel mode, deliver his money line to the Carroll City Council during its Aug. 25 retreat at Sam & Louie’s.

“Your Corridor of Commerce, Gir ‘er done,” the blue-collar hero would implore. Then Larry could tip his hat back and inhale the buffet spread the Moshers and Sam & Louie’s are sure to lay for our elected officials.

The Cable Guy, of course, isn’t the best messenger on the serious business. It’s up to us to drive home the point to our council.

Quit waiting. Enough with this grandstanding false prudence.

The city is now in Phase 6 of the Corridor. Much of U.S. Highway 30 is a construction zone as a result. The city weeks ago awarded Badding Construction of Carroll the contract on a bid of $841,824 for curb-and-gutter, sidewalk, street lighting and other related streetscape work on three blocks from West Street to Carroll Street and Main Street to Clark Street.

The contracted completion date for the work is Nov. 21

Fair enough.

But following this construction season’s work, six more phases remain in the Corridor of Commerce master plan, each with an estimated price tag of $750,000. It’s time to end the staging (and the annual disruptions to traffic) and bundle the six projects for the 2013 construction season, taking advantage of highly favorable interest rates for municipal debt and the prospect of a better bid with a larger, more attractive project.

Bloomberg.com reported Thursday that 10-year municipal bond rates were 1.77 percent. Just a few years ago, cities like Carroll were paying 4 percent.

Bundle to get a better price.

Bundle to get it done sooner.

What’s more, finishing the Corridor project in the next construction season would make an immediate impression — which is the point of the Corridor. Additionally, the mayor and council would fulfill promises made in the last decade to businesses, showing fidelity to the master plan, one developed with much public input under former Mayor Ed Smith.

There’s good news. We have room on the books to accomplish this.

Our current general-obligation debt stands at $5,990,000. That’s 18.5 percent of the city’s general-obligation debt limit of $32,348,993.

There’s better news. In the next few years, we’ll shed lots of debt. This fiscal year the city pays off the remaining $190,000 principal on a Bass Street drain-and-storm sewer project. We also knock off the last $90,000 on a fire truck. In fiscal year 2014 we see $560,000 in debt connected to the new fire station and first phase of the Corridor slide off the ledger.

By fiscal year 2017, if we don’t add any more general-obligation debt, we’ll have $2,310,000 in such debt on the books — or 7.1 percent of our debt limit. The percentage actually will be lower than that as the total valuation of all property in Carroll is sure to increase. Cities in Iowa cannot borrow more than 5 percent of their total assessed value.

Too often, elected officials, reaching for easy rhetoric, cherry-picked analogies, compare municipal finances to the household. This is more than foolish. It’s future-smashing.

Here’s how it works for people: A couple get married, buy a home with a 30-year mortgage at 32, get into some debt with household improvements, and more with their kids’ education. They pay off the mortgage in their early 60s, retire five years later, after they’ve wiped out remaining debt. They live another 25 years, die, and leave an inheritance to the people they love.

Here’s the difference with a city: Cities aren’t supposed to die. They are perpetual entities. We always carry some reasonable debt so we can build a better place, tackle substantial public-works projects we can’t fund on a pay-as-you-go basis. Previous generations did it for us. We owe it the next ones.

Cities should act like they are 40, old enough to have some wisdom, but in firm-gripped possession of the optimism and hope that comes with having the end still well out of sight and mind.

We have something else to consider with the Corridor of Commerce as well. Do you really want to keep enduring construction zones in our business district for the next decade?

The next six Corridor phases are as follows:

— 2015: Court Street from Fourth Street to Seventh Street.

— 2016: Depot Business Center area; West Street from U.S. Highway 30 to Fifth Street; Fifth Street from West Street to Carroll Street; and Sixth Street from Crawford Street to Quint Avenue.

— 2018: Clark Street from Fourth Street to Seventh Street; Fifth Street from Court Street to Clark Street.

— 2019: West Street from U.S. Highway 30 to Seventh Street; Fourth Street from Adams Street to Clark Street; and Main Street from Fourth Street to Fifth Street.

— 2020: Seventh Street from West Street to Carroll Street and Main Street to Clark Street.

— 2021: U.S. 30 from U.S. 71 to West Street and U.S. 30 from Clark Street to Grant Road.

These are property- and sales-tax producing areas of our city. Earlier phases of the Corridor project leveraged private investment on Adams Street and Main Street and elsewhere, boosting our tax base, creating jobs and opportunities.

It’s time to finish what we started.

Even a guy who cuts off his winter shirts gets this.

Get ‘er done.