This week’s decision by the Walla Walla City Council to use $66,000 from the $11.6 million police station bond fund for an electrical upgrade to City Hall can be justified. After all, the expenditure is less than six thousands of one percent (0.006) and will be used for doing a project that’s necessary and reasonable.
Still, the Council made a bad call. It should have rejected the proposal so every penny of the $11.6 million bond is used for the voter-approved purpose or returned to the taxpayers by paying down the bond debt.
It is a matter of principle.
When the proposal was pitched to voters in 2009 the Council pledged to return to taxpayers any money not used for constructing, furnishing and equipping the new police station or making the old station in the basement of City Hall a usable space.
Revamping City Hall’s basement — from removing hazardous material to painting and new flooring — bleeds into work that has to be done for the entire building. A basement does not stand alone.
A case can be made that the electrical upgrade will include the basement and it makes sense to do the entire building at the same time.
City officials did not simply use their own judgment in establishing what could and could not be funded from the bond money. A citizens’ committee was used to vet the requests. Its list of acceptable work included removing environmental hazards, electrical inspections and repairs, removing all furniture and fixtures, repainting and installing new floors.
The discussion about whether the electrical work should be funded was done openly. Since it was, let’s say, a ’tweener, the Council was asked to make the call. City officials should be commended for the discussion and seeking a public decision.
But the Council went the wrong way. Only Council member Chris Plucker voted against the plan.
“I do question how people will see this,” Plucker said. “And going forward as a Council and looking at projects we have down the road, are we shooting ourselves in the foot down the road?”
Yep, the city seems to planting the seeds of for a political backlash.
Given the use of excess bond funds has become a hot-button issue in Walla Walla, the prudent path for city government (or, frankly, any local government entity) is to not fund any work that is questionable.
It makes no difference if it’s a debate over spending $1 or $1 million, a promise was made. Trying to rationalize the breaking — even bending a little — of a promise doesn’t cut it.
The electrical work could have been dealt with through the General Fund, which includes maintenance.
The repercussions of this decison might be felt in the future when the Council wants to pass another bond issue.