Council plans for investment

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The city has a new plan to tackle infrastructure and facility projects after the City Council adopted its latest capital improvement program.

The nearly $47.8 million spending plan includes projects proposed for now through 2023.

Mayor Jim Paine said the plan is an opportunity to make a significant investment in the community, an opportunity the city has seen in a very long time.

"The fairly dramatic increases in the oil pipeline terminal taxes gives us the opportunity to really invest in our facilities, our infrastructure, buildings, equipment and even create some new programs and ideas and initiatives to move forward," Paine said. The plan includes a $2 million contingency, a significantly larger allocation than in recent years, to address cost overruns or new projects that may come along in the future.

"This is a great opportunity to invest in our city in a way we just haven't been able to in many, many years," Paine said.

"I've been working on this program for 25 years," said Jean Vito, finance director and senior administrator for the city. "This feels really good ... I think this is one of the best programs we've had in terms of just being able to cover everything we need to — major infrastructure, streets, roads, parks. It really is quite comprehensive."

Unlike years past, the city is able to fund most of the projects requested. The capital improvement program pays for big ticket items — those with a cost of $10,000 or more, and a life expectancy of 10 years or more in most cases. Exceptions include things like squad cars, which don't typically last 10 years.

"What is very different about this program is the pipeline terminal tax, which is driving this comprehensive funding that we have to present to you," Vito said.

In the first year of the six-year plan, the City Council approved four changes that will shift projects planned for later years. The Council approved shifting $300,000 from a planned building reserve fund in later years of the plan to increase funding for sidewalks this year to $500,000, more than doubling the money available for sidewalk replacements citywide. Under the old program, only Community Development Block Grant money was used, limiting where the city could replace sidewalks to meet federal guidelines. While there are no specific plans for the money, Paine encouraged councilors to walk their districts to determine where the need was the greatest. About $500,000 is planned annually for sidewalks and streets would see about $3 million in improvements annually.

The Council also approved funding for additional foundation repairs at Fairlawn Mansion, moved apron repairs for the East End fire hall from 2020 to this year to take advantage of another project to address the sewer trunk at Nelson and Newton creeks, and to update voting equipment at the request of City Clerk Terri Kalan.

"We were able to fund all of the requests that were brought to our attention," Vito said, which will be paid for by the terminal tax and bonding for the most part. Grants and revenues from property sales and auctions make up the balance of the program, which doesn't need a transfer from the taxpayer supported general fund.

New in the CIP is building maintenance fund, and changes to the Neighborhood Improvement Program, which has traditionally been used to raze blighted properties, but could include housing rehabilitation programs. Those haven't been determined yet, but the city's housing task force will work on ideas, Paine said.

Councilor Esther Dalbec said the city had a rehabilitation program in the 1970s that proved to be quite successful.

The Council approved changes to the 2018 program, approved its 2019 plan and granted tentative approval for 2020-23.