One of the many road repair projects underway in Rye.
City Gears Up for Major Capital Projects
By Robin Jovanovich
August ushers in the presentation of the City’s Capital Improvement Plan, a thick report produced over many months by City staff on public projects deemed essential. The report lays out how projects will be funded over a five-year period.
Highlights of the 2020-2024 Capital Improvement Plan (CIP) were presented at the August 7 City Council meeting. As noted in the introduction, with a decline in government funding, and grants and aid no longer “a reliable source funding for projects”, it is difficult for the City, with a current annual budget of $40 million, to fund all but low-cost projects under the 2 percent tax cap.
Among the $66 million in projects listed, the biggest expense is $17.4 million for Sewer, followed by $14.2 for Buildings, $11.3 for Transportation, $5.55 for Recreation, and $2.07 for Drainage. Needed improvements at Rye Golf Club, notably a new sprinkler system, and dredging and repairs at the Boat Basin total $8.7 million. Both the Club and the Boat Basin are Enterprise operations, which are budgeted separately and meant to be self-sustaining.
The current City Charter gives the City Council the authority to bond up to $12.7 million without voter approval. In the CIP, City staff anticipate that it would require the use of $26 million in debt to fund all the recommended projects.
Needless to say, the City is unlikely to fund even half of those projects in the next few years. Projects are approved according to priority and there are always far more projects deferred than given the green light.
In an interview with Mayor Josh Cohn after the presentation, we had a wide-ranging discussion on the projects that the City must go ahead on.
“I don’t think most residents understand just how much thought and preparation goes into the CIP,” he offered. He pointed to the need to temporarily move the City Court while mandated upgrades are performed to the state-run facility. “We considered sharing space at City Hall but that turned out not to be an option. The Council’s latest recommendation is to use the second floor of the new garage building at DPW, but that too takes state approval.” In the end, the current Court will be unavailable for use for a year or more at a cost of over $3 million. The City must adhere to a set of standards set by the Office of Court Administration, which include a separate elevator for prisoners and larger chambers for the judges.
Meanwhile, improvements to both the Police and Fire department buildings have been deferred, as have a new HVAC system for City Hall, restoration of the Nature Center stream bank, and the relocation of the RyeTV Studio to City Hall.
While the Car Park Improvement and Deck Feasibility Study has also been postponed, Mayor Cohn said the City has engaged another set of parking consultants to help the City “reimagine and reconfigure what we have. To create additional parking space, we need some big ideas.”
For those who’ve been out of town or parked under an umbrella at the beach the last few weeks, the pace of road repair throughout town has been dizzying. The Mayor described it as a blitz. Before schools reopen, the majority of the paving should be complete.
The parking lot at Metro-North is one of those roadways that is unlikely to be improved any time soon. “Metro-North says they want to reconfigure it,” reported Cohn, “but meanwhile just to repave and restripe what’s there costs $800,000, and amount that the City pays half for.”
With the opening of some kind of concession at the train station in November, the City has had to agree to give up approximately ten parking spaces. As a result, the City will have to increase annual commuter parking fees to over $1,000. The Mayor noted that the amount will be less than Port Chester commuters pay.
Looking ahead, Mayor Cohn said he plans to get the Master Plan discussions going again. “We’re struggling with an image cast in 1986. The City needs a good rethink.”