Big spending but few capital projects in line

If the city were to have a holiday wish list, Capital Facilities Plan (CFP) would be their over-eager order.

But for all of its hopes, the city will be receiving two big presents over the next biennium – the Winslow Way rebuild and the Waste Water Treatment Plant, leading some council members to speculate on the balance of the CFP.

“The bigger issue is whether or not this CFP with limited funds is serving the community,” said council chair Bill Knobloch. “The politics and lobbying has turned this (CFP) into two major projects that is basically grant money and debt. There’s nothing for roads, non-motorized, open space, parks.”

The capital facilities plan is a six-year outlook for projects the city aims to complete over the period. Projects are rated on a numeric basis of perceived importance, from 1A imperative projects to 3E discretionary projects. In all, there are over 250 capital projects in the CFP.

The importance and priority given to Winslow Way and the Waste Water Treatment Plant have irked some council members who have long been opposed to the project for a number of reasons, now the apparent hole in capital project spending is also being brought to the forefront.

“We needed to bring balance to our capital planning,” council member Debbie Vancil said. “If we were attending to all the safety and storm-water needs island-wide I would say we have the luxury of looking at a remodel and rebuild projects, but I don’t think we have that luxury.”

Opponents of the CFP argue that none of the approved projects are community priorities, citing this years community survey which found non-motorized facilities and water quality to be some of the top concerns for islanders. Downtown planning, although not specifically mentioning the Winslow Way project, ended up at the bottom of the community priorities list.

At last week’s council meeting, council member Hilary Franz defended the Winslow Way project, stating that components of the project, which include bicycle lanes, improved pedestrian infrastructure and environmentally friendly drainage features, all complied with the community priorities survey.

“I’ve had so many people come up to me and ask if we can just get this project done,” she said.

“No matter how they spin it, downtown planning is last,” Vancil said in a later rebuttal. “(Hilary) is pulling elements out of (Winslow Way) and saying that is what people want. That is misrepresentation of the survey questions.”

Capital projects left without funding include money to expand trail networks, open space, road ends and park improvements. Also axed is the priority investigation to identify leaks in the city’s sewer systems. The island will also go for two years without its capital road improvement fund, however, major potholes and emergency road repairs will still be funded with the city’s road preservation reserve fund. Many projects have also been postponed, such as a new Police and Court facility (dependent on the sale of the Suzuki property), a new senior center, and major road revamps across the island on Halls Hill Road, Fort Ward Hill and Wing Point Way.

The cuts to the CFP began when the council made extremely conservative revenue assumptions at the beginning of the budget session. Cuts to revenue assumptions of almost $3.5 million over the next two years severely reduced the possibility of further projects. Due the amount of grant money the city has garnered for the Winslow Way project, many other priority projects were nixed or pushed back to ensure grant expirations wouldn’t occur.

But that doesn’t mean the city won’t be doing other capital projects, said council member Chris Snow.

“I think that is a slight overstatement to say we aren’t doing anything (in 2009 and 2010),” Snow said. “There are other projects that are being funded in the utilities side of things. There aren’t many projects on the tax-supported side of things apart from the carry-overs, but that is about $5 million in projects that haven’t been completed yet and will be worked on in 2009.”

Still, the ever-contentious Winslow Way project and the numerous blank pages in the city’s CFP will remain a sore point even after the budget process.

“I can tell you now I am not going to vote for this budget,” Knobloch said. “Let’s measure Winslow Way, and then measure all those roads out there that are not being taken care of over the next two years.”

The council is expected to pass the 2009-2010 budget this Wednesday.

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