Deadline day is nearing. City Council is expected to vote Wednesday on up to $4 million in capital construction projects to be placed on the November 6 ballot.
By Jon Craig
Deadline day is nearing. City Council is expected to vote Wednesday on up to $4 million in capital construction projects to be placed on the November 6 ballot. “Next week is decision time,’’ Mayor Doug French said at Wednesday’s meeting of the Council.
A Council vote on capital projects was postponed again Wednesday due to uncertainty over the sale of the city-owned building at 1037 Boston Post Road, which is leased to Lester’s clothing store. (See related news story.)
French said he favors “doing the most critical safety and street improvements.” However, the mayor said he’s no longer in favor of short-term spending on police and fire stations or making sprinkler and other fire protection upgrades at the library. The latter can be included in the next annual budget, French said, adding, “I don’t want to go over the tax cap.’’
French also reminded residents that flood improvements require more analysis before the City spends additional capital money on those projects.
Several Councilmembers also expressed concern about spending $1.2 million on police/courthouse renovations yet still falling short of expectations of the Office of Court Administration (OCA). “Is that going to get OCA off our backs for the foreseeable future?” asked Councilmember Joe Sack. “Is that going to be enough for them?” City Attorney Kristen Wilson said that while OCA has endorsed some of the capital project plans in general terms, it has not granted an overall endorsement of the project. That prompted Councilmembers Catherine Parker and Sack to ask Wilson to try to secure such an endorsement from the OCA.
Wednesday’s discussion also focused on how much to spend to improve sidewalks and crosswalks on Boston Post Road near Purdy and at the intersection of Purdy Avenue and Purchase Street. Councilmembers and residents disagreed about whether to fund the projects all at once, or in phases.
French and Parker repeatedly cited their disdain for Rye’s so-called “Jersey barriers,” the unsightly concrete structures that protect motorists and pedestrians from falling rocks.
And Councilmember Laura Brett asked where the City’s responsibility begins when it comes to replacing Jersey barriers or resident-owned retaining walls that are falling down along Rye’s major thoroughfares.
Resident Bob Zahm said he’s all in favor of finishing traffic safety projects all at once, rather than in phases. He suggested the City seek financial help from the Rye City School District when it comes to sidewalks and other pedestrian safety improvements near Milton School or other school district properties.
Resident Ted Carroll said he’s in favor of fixing sewer pipes or roads that are caving in, but against merely widening roads. Keeping total bond spending to $2.5 million is wiser, Carroll said. “I think you can sell that’’ to voters.
But Councilmember Peter Jovanovich said, “I don’t think we can sit and wait for infrastructure to crumble.”
Former Mayor Ted Dunn asked French to provide a long-term spending plan to voters before asking them to spend up to $4 million on capital projects. “The City of New York runs a four-year plan. The State of New York runs a four-year plan. Your financial crunch is getting worse and worse and worse,” Dunn said.
But Jovanovich told Dunn there are many unknowns, including unfunded mandates from state government and how much may be spent to settle a labor contract with police, fire, and public worker unions. In the middle of a five-year plan “is a big question mark — mandatory arbitration,’’ Jovanovich said. “I think it would be misleading to tell the public ‘This is what’s going to happy as far as Albany and mandates are concerned.’’
At an earlier Council meeting, City Planner Christian Miller said some of Rye’s infrastructure is on the brink of failure, including Smith Street and the Smith /Elm Place intersection, the Locust Avenue sewer, and the Boston Post Road retaining wall.
In addition, the City recommends safety improvements to the Purchase/Fremd/Purdy intersection, and pedestrian improvements to deteriorated sidewalks, and crosswalks. It urges the installation of safety improvements near schools and the upgrading of crosswalks to ADA compliance. The total cost would be approximately $3 million.
“The City has real capital needs, some of which have been deferred for a long, long time,” emphasized French in a phone interview. “Drive down Purchase Street and you come to a metal plate in the heart of downtown that is a sink hole representative of our crumbling infrastructure, or turn onto Smith Street and drive over the patchwork road repair emblematic of short-term quick fixes over the years, or drive along the Boston Post Road where pieces of the wall are falling into the road – protected by a barrier that not only keeps the rocks from spilling onto the street, but also keeps the residents from that side of town from crossing the street,” French said.
Voters may be asked to approve two bonds on November 6. Separate from the infrastructure improvements is the Police/Court building improvements project. The Office of Court Administration (OCA) has indentified needed upgrades to the buildings primarily related to holding prisoners, providing a separate exit for prisoner transportation, and an interior elevator. The cost is estimated to be approximately $1.2 million.
Complicating City funding of infrastructure improvements is the 2% tax cap. Based on the City’s budget of approximately $30 million, a 2% property tax increase generates approximately $400,000 in revenue. Because the average capital project is at least $450,000, that makes it difficult to fund even the lower cost items on the City’s Capital Improvement Plan.