Committee declines to recommend additional borrowing

The city Finance Committee Tuesday remained neutral on an administration’s request to change a previously approved $20 million bond to allow additional borrowing for capital projects.

The city may borrow up to $2 million under the law previously adopted. Councilmen Jonathan Williamson and Randall J. Allison and Councilwoman Liz Miele had no recommendation on the proposal before them Tuesday.

The discussion is expected to continue before the full body of City Council Thursday night.

The administration has proposed spending $1.1 million to complete Reach Road, $350,000 for improvements to Bowman Field and $550,000 on city facilities. The sum council previously approved was $100,000.

In addition, River Valley Transit seeks to borrow $6 million rather than $4.5 million in order to complete public service work related to the compressed natural gas project on West Third Street and to repair faulty curbs and street issues along Pine and William streets.

Borrowing to fill gaps without having cost estimates was the fundamental stumbling block for the committee.

“Maybe we need to stretch the general fund paycheck until we get there,” Williamson said.

“We need to figure out how to pay as the city goes along,” he said. “I’m not disagreeing with the mayor and the administration, but rather, we have to deal with the hand we’ve been dealt.”

“We have the option of looking a year or two out and looking for more money, rather than borrow more money without knowing if we’re going to be able to use it or not,” Allison said.

Allison was willing to look at the capital costs related to City Hall, such as the leaking roof and numerous service calls to repair systems controlling air conditioning and heating.

“We need to tackle problems as they arise,” Miele said. “We need a plan that tells us what our priorities are and stop being surprised,” she said, saying adding borrowing and increasing debt was irresponsible and doesn’t serve the taxpayers.

Allison said one of the main reasons for his neutrality were the many unresolved cost issues and undetermined estimates, such as what’s needed at either East End or Memorial pools.

Estimates to make sure the pool remains competitive and has the amenities to draw people to Shaw Place Park were estimated as much as $750,000 to $850,000.

“Do we have a pool, if we have one, where, and how do we pay for it?” Williamson asked. “It’s not as though we didn’t discuss pools before the first reading of the ordinance,” he said.

Campana was upset that his “Lights On” initiative to pay for additional and improved streetlights, a project estimated to cost $125,000, is not funded in the ordinance.

William E. Nichols Jr., city finance director, urged the committee to reconsider the refinancing package due to the timing and availability of the low interest rates.

He reminded the committee the city has taken on little debt compared to peer cities.

“We need to take advantage and not borrow more than we need, but we’re not increasing debt by that much,” he said.