"It gives us breathing room." That's how City Councilman Don Noviello described passage of a resolution Thursday that extends the time administration and council has to review several capital improvement projects and decide how much more debt the city is willing to take on to pay for them.
No commitment on refinancing or adding debt was made, but council unanimously agreed to give an extension on the interest-only portion of the city and River Valley Transit's $5 million of debt and to extend a $3 million line of credit.
What council did held no monetary consequences or fees or add any debt service, according to Councilman Jonathan Williamson, chairman of the city Finance Committee.
Laura Templeton, regional manager of Rettew, presents future city projects as Jason Fitzgerald, senior vice president of Penn Strategies, looks on during the Williamsport City Council meeting Thursday night.
Dr. Jonathan Williamson, vice president of the Williamsport City Council, left, and council President Bill Hall look over paperwork during Thursday night’s council meeting.
"It saves money by not renewing the $3 million line of credit and keeps the low-interest rates in place for us until we can come back to council with our refinancing package," said William E. Nichols Jr., director of city finance.
Mayor Gabriel J. Campana has proposed a capital investment plan that includes projects that others want to review and see more specifics on, according to Noviello.
A proposed refinancing strategy includes issuing bonds of $10 million on behalf of the Williamsport Parking Authority and River Valley Transit for existing debt.
In the case of the transit service, the refinancing will include additional debt for the Trade and Transit II project, a 225-space parking garage to replace the Mid-Town deck at West Third and Laurel streets that is scheduled for demolition this summer.
It also includes a $10 million bond floated on behalf of the city to restructure existing debt of $7.6 million to take advantage of the favorable interest rates and bank climate. That could provide additional capital funds of up to $2.4 million to support the city's capital investment plan.
The refinancing package is in collaboration with work by a consulting team of Penn Strategies, of Harrisburg, and the city-based Rettew Associates.
Representatives of M&T Bank Securities and Rhoads & Sinon, bond counsel, attended to explain how extension of the maturity dates does not change any other terms or conditions but prevents the loans from locking in at permanent interest rates.
Laura Templeton, of Rettew Associates, said the consultants' goals are to continue to assist the city to define its economic development priorities, refine and pursue the strategies and find the resources necessary to achieve success.
She noted that over the first quarter of the year the firms attended various meetings with Campana, members of his administration and key community stakeholders to gain some familiarity with the projects envisioned.
They include, but are not limited to the Trade and Transit II and Destination 2014. The latter is a proposal to reuse the YMCA block once the building is sold to create jobs through the reuse of the properties for taxable purposes.
Among the ideas are a private developer's goal to build a civic all-purpose arena and the city's efforts to find financing to create a town square, or Williamsport Green, as a central gathering place.
Some of the most important projects, the consultants said, are the paving of Reach Road, upgrades to Bowman Field and East End Pool, money for the flood-control levee maintenance, storm-sewer upgrades, and the creation of multi-family housing at the former Brodart warehouse at 1609 Memorial Ave.
As swimming season approaches, the pool renovation concepts also were important to Justin Simpson, director of the Recreation Department, who was not at the meeting but spoke to the Sun-Gazette before it to discuss his hopes.
According to one plan, the city would amend a state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources grant to re-allocate funds to the pool at Shaw Place Park, including sandblasting the pool shell and repairing cracks, adding a diving board and stand and replacing the mechanical room equipment, filtration and chlorination systems. It also includes replacing pool decking, adding a water slide and eliminating the wading pool to create a zero-depth entry to the main pool.
Another project eyed by the administration this year is resurfacing and rehabilitate streets in a reconstruction plan.
City police Chief Gregory A. Foresman is keen on the department receiving a records management system costing $359,297, of which $131,560 is due upon contract signing.
The city will fund the initial payment of the $131,560 through a drawdown from its capital line of credit, a note taken in 2010. The borrowing period on that won't exceed five years, according to Nichols.
Another $500,000 has been proposed toward renovations of Bowman Field, present home to the Williamsport Crosscutters, a short-season professional baseball team that attracts thousands of fans and visiting team players.
Campana said he views the stadium as a potential opportunity to be one of the city's main attractions for events and music concerts.
He wants to see the acceptance of $100,000 from the Lycoming County Visitors Bureau, along with bank financing of $500,000, for several projects envisioned for the ballpark.
Jason Fitzgerald, of Penn Strategies, and Templeton said one concept to involve the public is to hold a two-day work session or provide information via a questionnaire to the public about what they'd like to see on the priority list of economic development projects.
The consultants said they will continue to work with the administration and council as the process of ranking and prioritizing the projects continues. A shortlist of high-priority economic development projects on which the city should focus will be development, and some of these projects already may be under way.