The Westfield City Council approved a $5 million bond Monday to pay for road infrastructure improvements, as well as vehicles and equipment for the police, fire and street departments.
Council members and the city’s administration spent nearly an hour and a half debating whether to approve the entirety of the requested $5 million bond, and the best method for doing so. The issuance is expected to pay for nine police vehicles, a fire engine and public safety equipment, plus early investments in a new street sweeper, four snow plows, a tractor, the reconstruction of Grassy Branch Road and 196th Streets, and a new roundabout at 169th Street and Spring Mill Road.
“As long as we’re in this growing environment we’re in, the physical needs you see listed here will continue,” Westfield Mayor Andy Cook said. “We’re perfectly open to how we can better address those needs, but what I don’t want to do is spend down our hard-earned cash reserves we built up.”
Westfield Chief of Staff Todd Burtron said the city had roughly $3 million in cash reserves as of Aug. 31, and another $9.4 million in an account previously created in 2007 to address the city’s operational deficits.
He said the city now has a more diverse set of revenues to address those deficits and the approximately $1.6 million left over from last year’s $5 million general obligation bond has already been earmarked for use by the public works, police and fire departments.
“This account has grown and put us in a cash liquidity to put us in a black state of financial liquidity,” Burtron said. “The city is in a strong cash position, that’s true, but we try to underspend our operating budget to carry a strong cash balance into the next year.”
Council member Troy Patton said he would support purchasing the vehicles immediately and reimbursing the exact amount from a future general obligation bond, so as not to incur unnecessary debt.
One reason Cook gave for bonding slightly higher than the exact amount needed for the next 12 months was to leverage future federal funding for road projects, in order to secure matching funds that would garner $4.4 million in federal road funds over the next three years.
Ultimately, the council unanimously approved issuing the full tax-neutral bond in lieu of reimbursing funds from the city’s cash reserves.
“Cash is absolutely king right now,” council member Scott Willis said. “There’s a huge unknown about where we’re going long-term with our city finances. I think spending that cash would be a huge mistake.”