Public debt not always a bad thing

Published 12:08am Sunday, September 1, 2013

Natchez and Adams County residents collectively owe more than $40 million in public debt.

That’s a bit of a staggering figure for most of us to consider.

If you live in Adams County, your share of that debt is approximately $700. If you live inside the city limits of Natchez, add another $1,100 to that to get your total.

For the great majority of us, the amount of public debt seems enormous. We’ll never see that much money in our lifetimes, let alone have the ability to pay it back.

But public debt isn’t completely bad.

In exchange for taking on debt, taxpayers are getting a good bit for their money. In Adams County, residents own miles and miles of asphalted roads, and both land and a huge port warehouse that county leaders believe will be lucrative investments for our community’s economy.

In the City of Natchez, residents own a high-quality convention center that hosts thousands of visitors each year, who in turn invest in our community by spending money while they’re here.

Taking out debt to fund major infrastructure needs is acceptable, so long as the public knows what’s going on and feels the investment is a wise one.

Of course, we’d love it if both city and county could manage to become debt-free.

However, that’s not likely to happen anytime soon. In the meantime, we’d just be happy if they both could maintain public roads out of their own budgets without having to take on debt.

The habit of late has been to delay maintenance until the roads are horrible and then float a bond to pay for it. That cycle is means we kick the can down the road on other, less-pressing roads until in a few years, they too are in the “emergency fix” category.

It’s a cycle made worse by the proliferation of public debt.