Capital plan gets nod over call to stall street work

Questions over Streetscape funding remain, with some calling the capital plan unrealistic.

The city’s Capital Facility Plan passed unscathed Wednesday night, but only after the City Council considered reining in the downtown Streetscape project.

The CFP, which will guide work on facility improvements through 2013, includes plans for a senior center renovation, soccer fields at Battle Point Park, a new police and court building, and the utility improvement phase of the Streetscape.

Council members, eager to move on to 2009 planning, stressed that the CFP is flexible and doesn’t bind the city to expenditures.

“It’s a planning document,” Council member Hilary Franz said. “And if people are worried about how it’s being funded or where the money is going, then their focus should be on the budget.”

Council member Debbie Vancil, who cast the only vote against the CFP, said there was no point in approving a plan that can’t be carried out.

Vancil said the Council was rushed into approving a list that included projects that cannot be funded or finished on time, and that would set a poor precedent.

“I felt that to pass the CFP completely unaltered was to set a platform for continuing the methods we used,” she said Thursday. “It isn’t really a real plan, we can’t complete all the projects on it.”

There was little discussion of the specifics of the CFP aside from the $2.6 million designated for the Streetscape, which launched the council into a dizzying series of motions, attachments to motions and amendments to attachments.

All members agreed that questions about funding and design need to be answered before Streetscape work goes ahead, but there were differing views on how to bring more accountability to the project.

Council Chair Bill Knobloch made a motion to freeze Streetscape spending until a project performance audit, value engineering and other assessments are done.

“Let me remind you of the millions that have been spent on this project already,” he said.

The motion was amended to include funding for project evaluation after city staff pointed out that it would require hiring consultants to get the answers Knobloch was looking for.

Meanwhile, Franz forwarded a plan, as an attachment to Knobloch’s motion, that would keep utility work on track but not expand funding until cost and engineering questions could be answered in workshops. Her plan would also use council members from the Finance, Public Works and Land Use Committees to work with staff on defining the project and act as liaisons to council.

Council Member Barry Peters supported Franz’s proposal.

“It will give us an orderly way for this council to proceed to answer questions about one of the biggest projects in city history,” he said.

Other council members said it would be premature to designate a team to the Streetscape before the project was evaluated and the role of the panel could be defined.

In the end, none of the changes were approved, but the debate set the stage for a Streetscape discussion scheduled for the Feb. 4 Public Works and Transportation Committee meeting.

That session is being advertised as a formal meeting with most of the council members expected to attend.

Before closing out Wednesday’s meeting – the 700th since the island was incorporated in 1991 – the council approved a timeline for the 2009-2010 budget, the first time the city and council have done biennial budgeting.

The schedule begins with a 2008 CFP and budget debrief Feb. 6. and by the end of February the city plans to have launched a community survey to gather input on budgeting priorities.

The survey would run through mid-March.

The CFP is scheduled for adoption on June 11 and the city budget is set for approval Dec. 10. In the last session, the 2008 budget was passed Dec. 19 while the CFP carried into the new year and went unresolved until this week.

The new budget calendar calls for more extensive council involvement than in years past, including 13 special council meetings, all open to the public.

Vancil said that if followed in full, the timeline will force the council to neglect issues outside of the budget.

“The schedule is doable, but only if we all realize that there will be trade-offs,” she said, adding that she expects to see changes.

City Finance Director Elray Konkel said its important for the council as a whole to be involved in budgeting this year.

“There’s enough work there for the council to just work on the budget and the CFP and stay busy all year,” he said.

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