Before a project can be started, an approved funding source must be identified. If enough uncommitted funds are available, the city may pay cash to have the project done. Most projects however, must be financed over a long time period since rarely do city governments have the money readily available to pay for high-cost capital projects.
Financing projects is similar to a homeowner’s mortgage. The city borrows a large sum of cash to pay for projects and then repays it with interest over a long period of time, generally 20 years. The amount repaid each year is called debt service. The general purpose behind the use of long-term debt for financing capital projects is that these facilities will last for many years so that current taxpayers will not have to absorb the full cost of their construction. Borrowing also serves to smooth the cost impact of large expensive structures (such as a school or fire station) over more than the facility’s shorter construction period.
Before the city can borrow the funds or even commit to begin a project, State law requires that several steps be complied with.
The state requires that a public hearing be conducted on a bond authorization by the City Council. A bond authorization indicates an amount of funds that the city intends to borrow (at some time in the future) to pay for capital projects. A notice (advertisement) that the public hearing will be held by the City Council must be advertised in the newspaper twice during the two-week time period before the public hearing is actually held. The advertisement lists the amount of funds that the city intends to borrow (at some time in the future) and provides an estimate of the amount of money by category that it intends to spend on capital projects.
The public hearing gives citizens an opportunity to express their views about the city’s intention to incur additional debt for capital projects. If the bond authorization is not approved, capital projects can only be done when the city has saved enough money to pay cash for the project.
If the bond authorization is approved by the City Council, it signifies that the city will use bonds as the fund source to pay for projects up to the amount of the bond authorization. It does not mean that the city intends to sell bonds immediately or even in the very near future. Generally, the city only sells bonds when the cash is needed and when market conditions are the most favorable (lowest interest rates) for the city to borrow the money. If you have any questions, please email the Department of Budget and Evaluation.