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Mayor concerned with city's debt

Mayor Fred Horne doesn't like where New Richmond's debt is headed.

Ahead of a City Council strategic planning meeting on Sept. 2, the city's mayor has compiled a few eye-opening facts about where the community's borrowing totals stand.

According to Horne, New Richmond is currently carrying $23.2 million in debt.

That total is more than the debt reported by River Falls ($11.2 million) and Hudson ($8.1 million) combined, and both of those city's have much larger populations than New Richmond.

The city's debt limit, which the state establishes at 5 percent of the community's equalized value, stands at $29.9 million.

"That's basically your credit card limit for the city," he said.

Horne said that means the community has already borrowed 77.71 percent of what it's allowed to borrow, which is a high number. Only a handful of cities across Wisconsin are as close to their debt limit as New Richmond.

"I think we've reached the point where we need to dial back on our spending," Horne said. "Maybe other people are more comfortable with debt. I am not. I'm saying time out - let's take a hard look at things before we do anything else."

As the City Council began discussing the possibility of purchasing the old S&C Bank corporate offices for a new police station, Horne said he wanted to know if the community could afford the idea.

It didn't take long for him to feel uncomfortable with the proposal, he said.

The council put the brakes on any decisions that would impact the city's debt level and instead scheduled the strategic planning session for 5 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 2.

At that meeting, Horne said, the elected officials will map out a plan for what projects they will tackle over the next five years.

Such planning is needed, Horne said, so that priorities can be established and so overspending doesn't occur.

"I do think the city is going to go deeper into debt," Horne admitted. "But I would rather reserve some of our borrowing capacity for projects that bring in jobs and help the economy."

Infrastructure projects, like constructing a new water tower, would be a prime example of a proposal that could open up opportunities for new businesses in New Richmond, he said.

Horne is less inclined to favor spending on projects that have nothing to do with job creation, alluding to the possibility of a new police department facility.

Of course, Horne doesn't have a vote on the matter, unless he is breaking a tie vote among the six council members.

Even without a vote, Horne said he wanted the aldermen to be aware of the current debt level in the city so they can make an informed decision in the future.

"The council has to set the priorities," he admitted.

Horne added that he's not blaming anyone for the current situation.

"I'm not pointing fingers," he said.

Horne has been on the City Council for 18 years, so he said he should have been keeping an eye on things too. But it's never too late to evaluate the city's financial condition and act appropriately.

Whatever happens, Horne said he expects a lot of New Richmond taxpayers to attend the special meeting or be tuned in to the cable access channel to see what happens Sept. 2.

A lot more people are watching the meeting telecasts, Horne said, and offering feedback on various issues.

"I think that's great," he said. "There are new people every week who say they are watching."