The $25.4 million Capital Improvement Plan was passed in the City Council on Monday night after weeks of the Finance Committee's vetting every flood mitigation project, school fix, and seawall repair.
According to Councilor John Keenan, who recapped the weeks of effort to the council, the biggest concern related to the repairs concerned the incoming debt.
According to the city budget, the cost of debt financing is expected to increase markedly by 2013, to more than $12 million, and decrease from there.
Even so, between the Central Middle School project, and financing for the capital improvements, the city's debt would need stringent management and careful planning.
“We were anticipating that spike, but our hope was to increase our stabilization account to anticipate that spike…it hasn’t gotten to that level we wish it would to absorb the number in 2013, yet nonetheless it is a number we can accommodate with some prudent planning,” Keenan said.
Money from the sewer rehabilitation fund and the hotel/motel room tax will go to offset some of the debt.
Though costly, the capital improvements are a necessary evil for the city, councilors stressed, and were problems that, if not soon repaired, would only get progressively worse.
“These are all issues that demand immediate attention,” Council President Kevin Coughlin said. “It’s a balancing act of doing this work…and assessing our affordability. Especially in terms of everything else we’re doing in the city.”
Projects include repairs to many school building roofs, infrastructure repairs to some city buildings, equipment purchases, seawall fixes, inspection and cleaning of Furnace Brook, and numerous flood-mitigation projects.
Although the project passed unanimously in the council, Councilor Joseph Finn expressed concerns that the city was “pulling out its credit card” in such a difficult economic climate.
As such, “vigilance is going to be needed more than ever in relation to the city budget,” Finn said.
His concerns were only highlighted by the previous presentation by the state delegation, which expressed the House's struggles with preparing the fiscal 2012 budget.
According to Councilor Keenan, who spoke on behalf of the State Senate, the state is not out of the woods yet in regards to the economy.
Despite concerns, Finn too said the capital fixes were almost non-negotiable at this point. “This is something that, if left untouched, will mean a greater cost in the future,” he said.
The capital plan will go through a bidding process and subsequent design phase. Chief of Staff James Fatseas was unsure when work would begin, but said the city was “anxious to begin these projects…these are long-needed repairs and maintenance.”