What are potential local ramifications of current financial crisis to county and the towns

The question is simple to state but probably very complex to answer.

What are the possible ramifications to the County and the Towns from the current financial crisis including but not at all exclusively budgets, taxes, development plans, services, credit, bonds, etc....? 

A secondary question is are there any actions our local governments should be taking now to reduce negative risks?

Certainly the personal suffering of residents is likely, including potential loss of jobs, shrinking investments, sinking home values (maybe). If this gets worse the consequences will be felt by local governments.

Maybe there are skills on this blog that can provide some insights.




I would think a lot of governments have already reduced their holdings of commercial paper and so called risky investments.  But what may be a more significant impact at the local level is the inability of people to contribute to our many safety net and other services organizations that do what the governments are not doing.

The lack of these gifts will mean that services will be impacted, as the organizations are not able to meet their operational budgets.  The next step typically is to reduce staffing, and thus the downward spiral intensifies.  At our last Strowd Roses Foundation meeting, we had less money to give to community organizations because of lower earnings on investments, but we had more requests than ever.  Many of the requests were for operational dollars rather than for special programs or projects, and note that our max gifts are $15K and no one receive the max this quarter.  I suspect that our foundation is not the only one working through this.

Generally speaking, local governments in North Carolina do not own Wall Street investments.  Our funds are in FDIC insured financial institutions and we are not allowed to play the stock market.  The difficulties on Wall Street could harm the NC state employees' retirement fund, but that is a problem that the State Treasurer will have to deal with.

Problems in the credit market could also hurt local governments when they try to borrow money via bank loans or bond issues, although municipal general obligation bonds are actually one of the safest investments you can make.  So far, I have seen no indication of any municipal borrowing problems.

Of course, the biggest problem (as with the Strowd Roses Foundation) will be a decline in municipal revenues because of the general decline in the economy (fewere sales = less sales tax).  We will probably not be as hard hit as some areas of North Carolina, but it will still not be easy.  We have been planning ahead for increased fuel prices, although there is no telling how bad that problem may get, so it is difficult to know where we stand on that front (or rather where we will stand on that front in a few months).

Budgetting for FY 2009-10 will be difficult and all of our local governments are going to have to be disciplined as we go into that process in the spring of 2009.

In this morning's N&O, Jime Wise had a story where he wrote:

Interim city finance director Keith Herrmann told the city council Thursday that Durham's $171 million investment portfolio is safe, despite the ongoing turmoil in financial markets.

"We have no exposure to the stocks of AIG or Lehmann or Washington Mutual, these stocks that have been making headlines these last few days," Herrmann said during the council's work session. He and city treasury manager John Allore gave council members a "snapshot" memo on the city's portfolio.

"You won't find any subprime mortgages on the city of Durham's balance sheet," he said.

Then, he added that:

Still, the finance department has moved some of the city's money around for safety's sake.

Allore said the city began two weeks ago taking money out of commercial paper and moving it into money-market funds, primarily through the N.C. Capital Management Trust.

"We were considering moving into treasuries [U.S. notes], but with the news there might be negative yields we have since reconsidered," he said.

Well, again, it has been 18 years since I took Jonathan Howes's class on local government, but . . . I think I recall that after the 1929 stock market crash NC passed many laws restricting the investment activities of local governments.  This was because some towns in NC went bankrupt around 1930.  As a result we have some of the strictest investment rules and oversight in the country. 

Towns cannot invest directly in stocks.  We are allowed to buy bonds (aka commercial paper), but Carrboro does not buy private corporate bonds and certainly not the dreaded Mortgage Backed Securities.  The Town of Carrboro's cash is all at Bank of America or in the North Carolina Cash Management Trust. 

The NCCMT is run by Treasurer Richard Moore with the help of Fidelity Investments.  I am told that for some time now Fidelity has been moving themselves and the NCCMT away from the companies that were heavily involved in Mortgage Backed Securities (such a Bear Stearns etc.), so the NCCMT is doing okay.

The statute governing municipal investments can be found here:


Incidentally, NC also has a unique oversight committee called the NC Local Government Commission which oversees major financial decisions of municipalities.  The LGC's conservatism has helped ensure that most municipalities in NC (including Carrboro) have excellent bond ratings which result in lower borrowing costs for our taxpayers.

It seems that Carrboro has been very conservative (in a very progressive town. :).) Can the same be said about the other towns and the county?


One of the reasons for the most recent aggressive gov't actions was that non-MBS bonds had started to be viewed with great skepticism by investors (which includes everyone who has a 401K plan...).  There's lots of blame in all this but I'm very thankful that Bernanke and Paulson are going against their market-driven backgrounds and aggressively acting to provide some stability.  In the long term it will be interesting to see how the ultra-free marketers justify their "let market forces decide" logic. 

David Beck


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