A few years back, a developer built what is now a small townhouse complex on John Street in Clayton. When the sewer line the developer installed needed replacing, the town rightly charged the townhouse owners.
A few years back, the town of Smithfield built a recreation and aquatics center on Booker Dairy Road. When scores of members failed to pay their yearly dues, the town milked taxpayers for the cost.
Which is the better lesson in personal responsibility?
Earlier this month, some of those Clayton townhouse owners appeared before the town council, complaining about the cost of replacing a sewer line they did not know they owned. The council was sympathetic but unwavering in its decision to assess the townhouse owners the cost of replacing the line.
Earlier this month, when Smithfield leaders learned the town had a $1.5 million budget surplus, no one on the town council acted in defense of taxpayers, who will see some of their surplus go to erase someone else’s debt.
Which is the better example of protecting taxpayer dollars?
In Smithfield, what’s left of the surplus will go into savings, lifting the town’s cash reserves to roughly 12 percent of general fund spending. In Clayton, town government ended fiscal 2012-13 with cash reserves equal to more than 47 percent of spending.
Which town is in better position to weather a financial storm, say cleanup from a hurricane, because of its cash on hand? Which town can borrow money more cheaply because lenders, seeing the town’s savings, are confident the town can repay its debts?
The good news is that Smithfield is rebounding from where Clayton once found itself – essentially broke and facing a state takeover of its spending. Just a year ago, Smithfield’s cash reserves were just 1 percent of spending, and state overseers had fired off a letter to the town.
A year later, thanks to some fiscal restraint, Smithfield’s cash reserves are climbing, giving the town a small cushion against any unexpected expenses. Granted, the reserves are just half of what the town council wants, and they’re four times less than what Clayton has on hand. But this is a one-year step in the right direction, and Town Manager Paul Sabiston and his staff deserve credit for making it happen.