The proposed 2014 budget work session Monday night proved to be a lively discussion on where the city is going in terms of its next large-scale parking options and improving a Recreation Department that costs more to operate that it did under the former YMCA management.
As City Council began the first of two budget work sessions with relatively routine discussion on proposed budgets for River Valley Transit and the mayor's office, the talk became spirited when the council looked at the revenue and expenses for the capital projects, including Mayor Gabriel J. Campana's vision for Destination 2014.
Overall, Campana's proposed $21.8 million budget for 2014 includes no planned increase in real estate taxes.
Williamsport Councilman N. Clifford “Skip” Smith flips through the pages of the budget during Monday night’s budget meeting in council chambers.
Another subject that drew plenty of questions was the capital projects proposed budget as the city anticipates revenue of $10.1 million.
It was the replacement of the Midtown Parking Deck and questions about funding that drew the most excitement among council and the administration.
"The bottom line is we don't know if the city will build a replacement for the Midtown deck," said Council President Bill Hall.
"No," said William E. Nichols Jr., director of city finance and general manager of River Valley Transit, owner of the site in question at West Third and Laurel streets. "That's a mischaracterization. It may be scaled down a little bit but it will be built," Nichols said. "It's going to be at least a $6 to $8 million project," he said.
"There will be a parking deck in 2014," Campana said in an animated tone. "We're looking at something that can be done in phases."
Campana said he is awaiting a letter from the governor on whether the project will receive the Redevelopment Capital Assistance grant money requested.
The city is seeking $6.5 million in a Redevelopment Capital Assistance grant from Gov. Tom Corbett's office.
"We're either going to have all resources on Midtown site or split the resources and have enhanced resources on two sites," Nichols said. The question is whether the city splits the resources on one or two sites.
"We could have two developments in regards to parking," Campana said. "We have to be flexible because it's a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to get $3 to $5 million."
Under capital projects budget proposed, the city expects bond proceeds of $1.9 million and $2.5 million for the River Valley Transit. It is going to use a $250,000 grant from the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources for the city pool project at Memorial Park and is planning to receive $550,000 from the Lycoming County Visitors Bureau and $500,000 from the First Community Foundation Partnership of Pennsylvania for the downtown project. Another $340,000 of revenue has been secured from the Appalachian Regional Commission and $760,000 is going toward Reach Road as a result of natural gas impact fees from the county.
Councilman Jonathan Williamson pointed out whether the city gets the revenues regarding the parking and Destination 2014 funding, in part or in full, is to be decided by the state grant allocation. The only approved revenue is for the records management system, Nichols said in response.
"This is a one-year more detailed version of a six-year capital improvements budget," Williamson said. None of it could happen or all of it could happen, he explained.
Significant time was spent plodding through the proposed recreation budget, which is larger, but the program income is significantly higher.
Councilwoman Liz Miele said the net increased cost to the city for recreation is about $30,000, which she said may be worthwhile to improve recreation and special events opportunities, but she thought it should be addressed publicly and monitored.
Councilwoman Bonnie Katz observed how the city-operated recreation department has more accountability than its predecessor at the YMCA and is offering programs that have more people attending them.
The city's second budget work session is scheduled for Wednesday night, also at City Hall.