Planning for $32.5 million in needs

Newton City Council is considering a five-year, $32.5 million capital improvement plan that the city manager said will address the city's most pressing needs.

"This is a planning tool to help focus both the staff and the elected officials on needs and trying to help the Council in their decision-making process about how to fund and what to fund throughout the five-year period," said Newton City Manager Todd Clark. "It is not just a Christmas wish list. The staff has carefully, thoroughly and thoughtfully considered each project and hours upon hours have gone into bringing this recommendation to them."

The capital improvement plan, or CIP, prioritizes needs supported by the city's general fund, as well as its independent enterprise funds, the water/wastewater and electric operations. It also charts how projects in those areas will be financed each year.

"Through identification of those necessary projects, it allows the Council and the staff to work together to develop a plan of what will be funded based on current and projected revenues, and stay within a budget," Clark said, "instead of haphazardly putting things in a budget without a priority."

Combined, the CIP seeks to borrow more than $30.6 million during the next five years, debt that would be added to the city's current indebtedness of nearly $27.7 million. During the five-year period, the CIP proposes "pay-as-you-go" project funding of $1.85 million that comes from city coffers (see related story).

While the total amount of spending proposed in the CIP reaches $32.5 million, Clark cautions that the total includes spending for the electric and water/wastewater funds, which are treated as independent businesses.

"The water and wastewater fund is not supported with tax dollars, and the electric fund is not supported with tax dollars," Clark said, explaining the two enterprise funds are supported by utility bills and customer rate payments.

CIP projects in the property-tax-supported general fund total $13.3 million. In the electric fund, the CIP proposes $5.1 million in spending. The CIP for water and wastewater departments sees the largest expenditures at more than $14 million.

Clark said infrastructure, such as water and sewer lines, are among the city's largest needs.

"The biggest bulk of what is proposed is in our enterprise funds. The fact is, our system is old. Each of these utility systems is old, and if we don't repair them, we are going to continue spending a lot of money on band-aids and short-term fixes," he said, adding some city water lines were first installed in the 1920s. "The question has to be asked, do we continue to make short-term fixes, or do we fix them for the next 80-100 years?"

The CIP doesn't just focus on projects. It also creates spending plans for vehicles and equipment needs during the next five years. Of the $32.5 million in proposed spending, almost 23 percent, or $7.4 million, will go toward vehicles and motorized equipment, such as police cars, fire trucks, light- and heavy-duty utility trucks, street sweepers and mowers. Most of the vehicles and non-motorized equipment in the plan are replacement items.

While the CIP lays out a plan for the next five years, its most important focus is on the coming fiscal year, for which city leaders are currently planning a budget. For fiscal year 2011-12 that begins July 1, the CIP plans spending almost $2 million each for the general fund and water/wastewater funds. It also plans $4.1 million in spending for the water/wastewater fund, including almost $2.7 million for water and sewer line rehabilitation throughout the city.

For next year, Clark also said a CIP priority is replacing Newton Police Department's records management system at a cost of $373,500.

Clark said the system is in dire need of replacement.

"The existing system has vulnerabilities, and if any part of it goes down, there is no way to retrieve any historical data," he said, adding the equipment is obsolete and there is no way to repair or service it if it does fail.

The new record management system for the city's police department amounts to about 19 percent of CIP spending planned for fiscal year 2011-12. The system will be obtained through lease purchase.

Also in the fiscal year ahead, the CIP proposes $154,500 in spending for Newton Fire Department, including $79,500 for renovations to the Startown station, $40,000 for thermal imaging cameras and $35,000 for a firefighter accountability system.

Vehicle and equipment purchases proposed in the CIP for fiscal year 2011-12 total almost $1.4 million.

Newton City Council received a copy of the CIP on April 5, and held an initial workshop to discuss the plan prior to its April 19 meeting.

Clark said this is the first CIP devised during his tenure as city manager.

If approved, the CIP is not binding, Clark said, "We will revisit the plan on an annual basis. It is a fluid document," he said, adding the CIP is not an ordinance or law. "It is a resolution, which means it is a policy that can be amended any time without any effect upon law."

Concluding City Council's first CIP work session, Newton Mayor Robert Mullinax said information in the spending plan and needs facing the city are "very sobering."

"Everything in here is a necessity," he said. "We have got to deal with this. We will have another work session, and we need to start dealing with it. We are either going to adopt it or not adopt it before we start budgeting."