While it has no impact to the general fund budget, City Council won't endorse the financial aspects of Destination 2014 and is adverse to the city "being on the hook" for a dime of project cost overages and unforseen construction expenses.
Earlier in the week, developer Dan Klingerman, of The Liberty Group, 1500 Sycamore Road in Loyalsock Township, said he was purchasing the YMCA building, although he declined to reveal what the purchase price was, and that he would add to the area by creating a modern Williamsport Civic Arena.
That would happen with the transformation of the Pickelner Arena by adding seating, tearing down a portion of the YMCA housing a pool and gymnasium and on the other side of the lot creating executive-style apartments out of the old YMCA building on West Fourth Street and a conference/meeting center in a building to the east of that. The project also includes creation of a 1-acre Williamsport Green, a town square with an entrance at West Fourth and Hepburn streets and a parking deck.
On Thursday, Councilman N. Clifford "Skip" Smith demonstrated his "discomfort" with the logistics of how the project will be funded, but not his opposition to the developer moving foward on the project.
Smith and several others on council expressed their support, but as they adopted a $21.1 million budget that reduced police force by three officers and Streets and Parks Department by one employee, while raising real estate taxes by 1 mill, they were concerned about unknown variables.
"I'm looking at $5 million," Smith said, reviewing the administration's proposal to seek grant funding with the state Redevelopment Capital Assistance program and through potential other funding measures forwarded by William E. Nichols Jr., director of finance. "Council needs to be provided the grant application and be able to review all stages of this project. I don't agree with the way it is presented to us."
Smith compared the portion of the capital projects budget that lays out the cost and method of payment for a $360,000 records-management system that the police department wants to purchase to provide the department with better accountability and more accurate and quicker access to records.
"With the destination project, I am not totally convinced this project, as we see it today, will occur," Smith said. "I don't want to see the city being on the hook for this project," he said.
Smith said he discouraged the city from becoming a co-developer. "We as a council represent the taxpayers of the city," Smith said. "We're asked to approve a grant for this funding from the state and we don't even know the budget."
Councilman Randall J. Allison said he shared Smith's concern and knew of no construction that does not have unforseen costs.
Councilwoman Liz Miele echoed that statement on the questions regarding financing of the destination project.
Councilman Jonathan Williamson, chairman of the finance committee, said the council's endorsement of the budget is not necessarily an endorsement of the projects in the capital projects budget.
In June, he said, the administration reviewed with council a capital projects plan covering a six-year period.
Following up on the administration's proposal to refinance $2.3 million in city debt, the council approved designating a part of any revenue that is excess of the budgeted amount arriving from wage, business privilege and mercantile taxes.
The purpose is to pay down the principle of the debt faster than what was required, according to Council President Bill Hall.