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Editorial: More notice needed about city’s $40 million bond

It’s good that Salisbury is spending $40 million to invest in water infrastructure, but a vote on Tuesday shows there’s work for city staff to do on communication and transparency.

That the council would consider a $40 million revenue bond Tuesday was not publicized via an agenda item. It also appears that some council members weren’t aware of the matter. That lack of knowledge became evident when Councilman David Post began asking questions.

“I mean we’re spending $30 million. I think we should have some clue what it is,” Post said.

The additional $10 million represents money for refinancing existing debt.

City staff might argue that Post missed an email or forgot a conversation, but Mayor Pro Tem Al Heggins also appeared to be among those who were without advanced knowledge of the $40 million revenue bond. And this is the first public conversation we’re aware of that has occurred about the bond. Post and Heggins, as the No. 2 elected official in Salisbury, should know about discussion of major projects more than a few minutes before being asked to take a vote.

The public deserves to know in advance for obvious reasons, including that thousands of people pay Salisbury-Rowan Utilities for clean water and sewer service every month.

Instead of including the $40 million bond on the agenda, a resolution that effectively served as the council’s approval was lumped into the city attorney’s report. That resolution, by the way, did not state the amount the city was seeking.

City staff have likely been discussing the matter for weeks, if not months, and there’s no good reason why Tuesday was the first time many heard about the project. Rowan-Cabarrus Community College is seeking a $45 million bond referendum and has spent months talking to anyone who will listen about its benefits. That voters don’t need to approve the city of Salisbury’s bond shouldn’t be cause for lessened communication.

But it’s not just city staff who need to do better.

Through her statements during the meeting, it’s clear Mayor Karen Alexander knew about the $40 million in advance. At a minimum, she has a responsibility to make sure other council members know what’s going on before meetings.

As Post said, $40 million is “real money.” In fact, it’s more than the city spent to install lines for the city-owned fiber-optic network known as Fibrant.

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