Danedri Thompson
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City council members tabled until Nov. 17 the adoption of a capital improvement program (CIP) to allow time for members of the community to comment.
The CIP is a five-year plan developed to “guide the city in planning for infrastructure, park and facility improvements crucial to the community’s future,” according to a memo from city staff to council. The governing body is required by state regulations to adopt a five-year CIP each year. The proposed 2014-2019 plan includes more than $30 million in future projects.
Two citizens spoke against parts of the proposal during a Oct. 20 city council meeting. Specifically, Shawn Carlisle and Rich Melton opposed a proposal to spend $55,000 to put bullet-proof glass inside city hall.
“We’re talking about spending $55,000 to put glass in an opening where bullets can still go through the sheet rock,” Melton told council. “Fifty-five thousand dollars could fund another (school resource officer).”
Carlisle agreed.
“It doesn’t make much sense to spend money on bullet proof glass when the remainder of the building is not bullet proof,” he said.
Carlisle also expressed doubts about a proposal that would spend an estimated $400,000-plus to design, not build, a new police station.
Though the council adopts a CIP each year, council member Tory Roberts said this year’s plan was presented in a different way that may require more community input.
“When it was presented in that past, it was presented as, ‘here it is, but we don’t have any money, but here it is,’” she said. “… It wouldn’t hurt to have another meeting just to put it out there. It could take people by surprise. It’s a lot of money. I don’t’ see why we can’t get more feedback.”
The proposed CIP was presented and approved by the Gardner Planning Commission, before Matt Wolff, Gardner management analyst, presented it to the council on Oct. 20. Council also briefly discussed some of the proposed projects as they were approving the 2015 city budget.
Wolff said staff utilized the city’s comprehensive plan and master plans to develop the CIP.
“We developed projects to address those needs,” he said. “After the needs are identified, we needed to identify project costs.”
The CIP includes more than $4 million in capital improvement expenditures in 2015, including $195,000 in improvements to city hall including bullet proof glass; $310,000 for a traffic signal at Lincoln Lane and Moonlight; $888,000 for park updates including $636,000 in Westside Park improvements and $50,000 in upgrades at the Gardner Senior Center; $550,000 to design a new police station; and $1.5 million to replace a large piece of electric utility equipment.
In 2016, the proposed CIP includes more than $8.4 million in improvements. The most costly proposed expenditure that year is a proposed $4.4 million for the construction of a new police station. Other costly upgrades include $2.1 million for the construction of a new storage tank at the south lift station.
According to the proposed CIP, the costly year would be 2017. In that year, staff proposes more than $9 million in spending. Costliest projects that year are a $5.7 million proposal to upgrade the parks facility maintenance building, $1 million for storm water upgrades in the Parma subdivision, and $1.4 million to replace a gravity main.
The CIP proposes $5 million in upgrades in 2018 and $3 million in 2019.
Council member Steve Shute said the proposed CIP was not properly vetted by the public. He said the city should host a public hearing and actively seek input on the proposal.
However, Mayor Chris Morrow said the state law lays out a process for approval of a CIP and a public hearing isn’t required.
“Just because a statute doesn’t require a public hearing, that doesn’t behoove us not to have one,” Shute said.
Council member Heath Freeman said residents have had ample opportunity to weigh in on the list of priorities. Council member Kristina Harrison agreed.
“From my perspective, none of these projects are new,” she said. “Every one of these project has been discussed during the last few months. We have seen them. (Staff has) told us multiple times that these are projections.”
Shute said council hasn’t seen it all put together with specific amounts.
“The members of this community, the 20,000 citizens we represent, they have not seen this information,” Shute said. “We know about this stuff. OK. But nobody in the community knows about this, and we’re spending their money.”
Council members agreed to host a work session on Nov. 17 to take public comment on the priority list of projects and expenditures.