With 27 projects vying for millions of dollars in funding over the next five years, the Superior City Council set its priorities as the capital improvement program that is used to pay for them faces a $9.5 million shortfall over the next five years.
The shortfall stems from reductions in estimated revenues after the city received a reduction in revenue from the oil pipeline terminal taxes.
“A lot of those projects are front-loaded so the deficit is very real,” Mayor Jim Paine said. “It is a problem we very much have to solve.”
Paine said the problem doesn’t have to be solved entirely with cuts, and suggested additional revenue, whether through by extending the life of the capital improvement program beyond five years, using city budget surpluses or some of the city’s fund balance, or bonding for more revenue.
For each option, he outlined the potential pitfalls such as limitations on potential projects in future years, the city’s budget constraints and the potential for increasing property taxes to pay for bonding.
Councilors made no decisions concerning ways to increase revenue for the program.
“This is going to be very challenging,” Paine said Tuesday Dec. 10. “Tonight should be about what we value rather than what we should cut.”
Councilors each had 10 votes to cast in favor of projects they most wanted to protect before the mayor attempts to match spending with revenue estimates.
But some cuts were made even before councilors had a chance to vote by proponents of the project.
Police Chief Nicholas Alexander recommended funding the city’s take-home squad program at half the level originally planned and eliminating funding for improvement at the police evidence garage, saving the city about $155,000.
Linda Cadotte, the city’s parks, recreation and forestry director, recommended eliminating funding for improvements at the Pokegama Landing, and using her budget to cover $45,000 of the estimated $150,000 project.
Councilor Tylor Elm, chairman of the Communication and Information Technology Committee, was hesitant to guess what costs might face in the next five years to build a fiber optic network in the city, and ultimately asked that it be struck from the list of projects until a plan is developed to better estimate the costs.
The majority of votes, 64 of the 100 total votes, were cast in favor of existing projects for park improvements, Hammond Avenue reconstruction and spending for general street maintenance topping the list of projects of projects to protect. Those three items alone, account for nearly $14.4 million in planned spending over the next five years.
Sidewalks, squad car laptop computers, maintenance of city facilities and the Neighborhood Improvement Fund also ranked high on councilors priority list.
Existing projects that didn’t garner support included updating the city’s comprehensive plan, reconstruction of 31st Avenue East, and plans to replace squad cars outside of the take-home squad program and fire rigs.
With their remaining 36 votes, councilors offered support for new projects including pavement repairs on North 21st Street, revamping the parking lot on Barker’s Island, purchasing cameras for a citywide security system, providing a paved path adjacent to North 28th Street, improvements to city firehalls and purchasing some snow removal equipment for sidewalks in the city.
“This affects our commerce; it affects our citizens,” said Councilor Ruth Ludwig, who introduced discussion of city-run sidewalk snow removal program at the Public Works Committee last month. “It affects customers that come into town … If we had even one of these, our sidewalks downtown could be clear by now.”
The equipment for it garnered six votes.
New ideas that didn’t garner support include funding for an interim market property valuation, improvements at Woodstock Bay, extending the Tri-County Corridor to Barker’s Island, improvements to city museums and restoring water fountains the city used to have.
Not voting for something doesn’t mean it automatically gets cut, Paine said. For example, he said, the comprehensive plan update is required by state law and the city could be forced to do a citywide property revaluation if it goes out of compliance. He said the Council’s priorities will be used to craft a new capital improvement program in coming weeks for the Council to consider.
“We want to do the hard part first to show what we truly value,” Paine said.