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Council Member Worries About Metro's Debt -- Sky Arnold

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NASHVILLE, Tenn.--Metro students are already using laptops but district spokesperson Joseph Bass says we're going to need a lot more for new tests.

"Without the computers students can't take them," said Bass. "This was not something we could do in our regular budget.  It's something that came up now we have to do it now."

Tuesday night Metro Council voted to take out $6 million in bonds to buy those laptops.

Council Member Charlie Tygard says it's the latest example of  a problem of using financing too often pay for things.


"We're financing computers over 20 years. These computers will be gone when the bond payments still have to be made," said Tygard.

Like a lot of cities, Nashville usually issues bonds for big things like schools.

It allows cities to get large sums of money now but they have to pay interest on that money.

That's where Tygard gets uncomfortable.

In the year 2000, Metro owed $989 million in bonds.

That debt grew to $1.7 billion in 2008 and the number is now $2.3 billion.

The debt on that is around a billion dollars.

 "Do the math in 13, 14 years time we've added $130 or $140 million in bond indebtedness.  It's unsustainable over time," said Tygard.

Metro Finance Director Rich Riebeling sees things differently.
   
"I don't think there's any question we can afford what we've spent and the best indicator I get is the rating agencies," said Riebeling.

That bond rating remains good Riebeling says because Nashville's debt has continued to remain 10% to 11% of the total budget.

Riebeling says the current percentage is actually a little lower than when current Mayor Karl Dean took over.

"I think if we keep it in these historic levels it's a manageable number for the city to do and it's a prudent way to finance these projects," said Riebeling.