Harrisonburg’s Debt Capacity vs Goals for our Future

Change is coming in Harrisonburg and we should discuss it in public dialog. Harrisonburg’s debt capacity vs the goals for our future city seem to be just a hint of what is coming. I heard the debate about a new elementary school a few years ago and the new high school coming soon. We are talking about how we should not spend “that much” on either of them. I wonder why the same debate did not happen for the new municipal building – or maybe it did and I missed it? What about the money that will be spent on expanding the courts in downtown? What are we willing to spend to address the homeless issue in town? Will we spend money to upgrade our local parks? What else is coming that the city needs to pay for that is not “in the budget?” Why are we not asking for the EUI (Energy use Intensity) for all city buildings and new proposed schools? This is a monthly bill that has to be paid for by our taxes. Why do we get stuck on specific projects and not holistic efficiency for our buildings and systems? What might “break” next that we are not expecting that will need to be repaired?

energy use intensity

This morning the Citizen published an excellent article on Harrisonburg’s debt capacity to help us understand the challenge we are facing.


The conversation should be about more than debt capacity, it should also focus on what we want our city to be when we grow up.

market street

See my blog post “What do you see as the biggest challenge the city of Harrisonburg is facing over the next 5 years?”

I believe at the city council meeting where the new high school was presented with a budget under $100 million (as the contractor was directed to deliver) that the real estate tax locally will need to go up .13 cents per $100 of assessment to pay for the debt service. This is a huge jump in real estate taxes. That would push us to one of the highest real estate tax levels in the area. I don’t think it is the wrong thing to do (build a new high school), however, I think we should discuss ALL the spending that is on the horizon along with specific projects.

Winchester – .93 cents per $100

Staunton – .95 cents per $100

Harrisonburg – .86 cents per $100

Waynesboro – .90 cents per $100

Roanoke – $1.22 per $100

Lexington – $1.06 per $100

Charlottesville – .95 cents per $100

Other things that we should financially consider include:

expansion of water supply

addressing the homeless issue

parking structures downtown that are nearing the end of their useful life

underground utilities that are in the same condition as those replaced this summer on East Market St.

New middle school or renovation of THMS

New elementary school

downtown park / expansion of the farmer’s market

expansion of the greenway network

streetscape continuation downtown

adjusting pay scales for public servants

What else should be on the list?

Court Square

I have been here for 11 years now. I have fallen in love with Harrisonburg and I want it to be a world class city. I want that goal to be built on our traditional values and I don’t think we can get there quickly. With good financial decisions, efficient use of our funds available, and proper planning with intentional DESIGN!!!! we can get there. We are already an amazingly diverse melting pot of cultures, foods, language, personalities, but we can be even better. I am looking forward to that challenge and the discussion that needs to happen along the way.

Post your healthy and well informed comments below.


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