With funds short, roadwork may be put off

Facing a period of limited revenue growth, the city is cutting back on “big-ticket” capital spending, and looking at service users to shoulder more of the costs.

That will mean higher water and stormwater bills for Winslow residents, said Ralph Eells, city finance director. And it likely means that voters will get the final say on most major projects.

“Voter initiatives have limited the amount that cities can increase revenues without a vote of the people,” Eells said, “and I don’t think we will be able to pay for major capital projects in the future without going to a vote.”

The public will get its first chance to comment on the city’s shopping list tomorrow, when the Bainbridge Planning Commission conducts a hearing on annuals revision of the Capital Facilities Plan.

The plan scuttles some of the more ambitious road “connectivity” projects that have been in the talking stage, such as bridging Wyatt Way to the highway, and paving Mandus Olson through from Koura Road to New Brooklyn.

“Those were either considered too expensive, or raised a lot of opposition in the neighborhoods,” Eells said.

A number of other road projects are pushed back to the post-2008 horizon, including the controversial possible opening of Ericksen Avenue through to Hildebrand Lane.

Other “later” projects include Manitou Beach Road, Madison Avenue between Wyatt Way and High School Road and Wyatt Way east of Madison.

A number of road rebuilds, mostly in downtown Winslow, remain in the plan. Next year would be the busiest year, with both Ericksen reconstruction and a rebuild of Winslow Way from Ericksen east to the highway on the schedule.

The Madison-New Brooklyn area would be redone in 2004, and Country Club Road in 2005.

The following year – 2006 – would be especially busy under the plan. That’s the year the plan calls for rebuilding the heart of Winslow Way, from Ericksen to Madison, as well as rebuilding Fort Ward Hill Road.

Finally, the plan envisions rebuilding Wyatt Way west of Madison in 2008.

While the plan cuts back on road work, it treats non-road projects well. The plan allots a total of $4.25 million to non-motorized transportation improvements over the six-year period, over and above non-motorized elements like sidewalks and bike lanes that will go into some of the projects.

“That reflects the community values survey,” said Bill Knobloch, chair of the city council’s finance committee. “I’m pleased to see that, because it shows we’re starting to coordinate the budget process with what the community wants.”

The city’s ability to pay for the planned projects depends on a number of assumptions, Eells said in a written analysis. Those include a doubling of building-permit fees; a voter-approved increase in property taxes for 2004; state or federal grants to pay for some of the Winslow Way and Wyatt Avenue work; and increases in water, sewer and stormwater rates.

Whether the projects will require voter-approved property-tax increases can’t be determined at this point, Knobloch said.

“We always have money left over, so we could pay for them,” he said, “but it will be a question of priorities.”

Knobloch said that the document is also fluid in the sense that some issues, particularly the Winslow Way reconstruction, will receive considerable further study.

“That is a matter of great concern to the business community,” he said. “We really need to have the Chamber of Commerce and Team Winslow sit down with the business community and with us to figure out when and how we’re going to do that, because it has to be done.”

The feedback from the Planning Commission hearing will go to the council, which will also receive the mayor’s preliminary budget next week, Knobloch said. The council plans a number of public hearings to further its stated objective of bringing city spending more into line with community priorities.

“That is when it will really start to get interesting,” Knobloch said. “It’s showtime.”

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