Vote ‘no’: Lakeland’s debt would soar sky high with $50M school bond
[Editor's note: This is one of two guest editorials published to demonstrate the views on both sides of the $50 million school bond issue in Lakeland. See the other editorial here. Early voting on the issue will continue through April 11; the Referendum Day is April 16.]
To borrow a phrase from the “Vote Yes” camp, Lakeland is indeed at a crossroads. At stake is the single most important financial decision in the 37-plus year history of our small town. This vote is not about schools, but about debt; a level of debt unprecedented in the city’s history and one that would be illegal many times over in any other city in Shelby County.
Lakeland is the only city in Shelby County that has no limits on general obligation debt. That is debt guaranteed only by the government’s ability to tax. Every other city protects their citizens with debt limits, but not Lakeland. For example, Collierville limits debt to less than $1,500 per person. Currently, Lakeland is $512 per person, but with this proposed bond we’d be $4,483 per person — THREE TIMES the debt level allowed under Collierville’s debt rule!
The mayor and the other commissioners will not address the fact that Lakeland has no debt limits or that this bond violates every single debt limit of ALL the surrounding communities. Instead, they say a debt model presentation made by PFM last August shows we can easily afford this bond.
They fail to mention two critical facts about this presentation. First, there is no public record that PFM was paid for this; it was simply a marketing tool demonstrating their services. PFM was awarded a contract with the city last December, months AFTER their presentation. There is a public record of this. Second, and most critically, PFM did no independent research for this model. PFM simply used data that the city provided! This fact is noted on the last slide of the PFM presentation. Using the incorrect data supplied by the city, the model provided an incorrect answer. This incorrect answer is what the “Yes” side uses to claim the bond is affordable.
The BOC refused to allow the citizens of Lakeland a voice in this, the single largest debt in the City’s history. We fought for and won the right for all to vote. The BOC slipped in amended language minutes prior to passing the property tax referendum, allowing no public debate on the changes. These changes are the only thing that allows them to keep the tax increase if the bond vote fails. This is public record as well. They have been unable to disprove a single one of our researched and referenced articles, despite many attempts. We encourage fact checking of our work, provide references and show our math in public. They ask you to trust them, or to call or email them for answers, thereby hiding their positions from public scrutiny.
This is the single most important vote in the history of Lakeland, so get educated. Get out and exercise the right we fought hard for all to have.
Remember, this vote is only about debt.
To see our research, visit www.concernedcitizensoflakeland.com.
Guest editorial written by Lakeland resident Mike Shideler. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.