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Williamsport officials OK 6-year capital projects budget, call it a ‘wish list’

City Council has on first reading passed a six-year capital projects budget of $79.5 million, a gigantic wish list of projects, most of which will not be funded but some that the administration and council consider priorities.

“This is a wish list and pretty much only that,” said Councilwoman Liz Miele, chair of city finance committee.

“It is not the city’s fiscal reality,” she said at the most recent council meeting.

“It is the expenditure numbers (without) or lacking the context of the funding, which is the most important part,” Council President Randall J. Allison said.

The project budget is expected to be reviewed by city planning commission on July 6, said Joseph Pawlak, city interim finance director.

“It is a planning tool,” he said. It is a budget that runs July 1, 2022 through June 30 2027.

In the interim, the city will need to find grant sources, secure them and council award a contract for specific projects, he said.

In the capital projects budget were four sections.

The first showed the status of the previous years’ projects; second was potential projects; third was funding sources and fourth were narratives by department managers.

Under a section called Public Services, under street improvements the administration wanted to see funding for brick street rehabilitation, curb ramps, Willow Street Greenway, Newberry trail connection, a Lights On (street light) initiative Reach Road extension and street trees.

The six-year total is $12.2 million.

Under storm sewers, the projects include the Chesapeake Bay Pollution Reduction Plan, Grafius Run flood mitigation improvements for a six-year total of $6.4 million.

Under flood control, there are improvements needed at the pump stations and levee estimated to be a $12.7 million six-year total.

Under recreation, there are planned park improvements budgeted at $1.5 million.

Under miscellaneous projects equipment, facility roof replacement and City Hall improvements are listed at $6.8 million over the six-year total.

That is a total public service capital projects budget of $39.8 million.

Miele noted $20,000 annually for street trees came primarily before from the TreeVitalize program, which has been disbanded. “The city is well under way to revitalizing shade trees and I would not want to see that not happen,” she said.

Pawlak answered by saying the city would review different grants and resources that may be available on trees.

Miele mentioned the city’s $2 million financial obligation over the course of four years for the Chesapeake Bay pollution reduction plan, a multi-year project, Pawlak said.

Councilman Jon Mackey said he would like to see for second reading budget money reserved for brick street rehab be removed and added as a line item under recreation to take care of Brandon Park baseball fields.

“In my opinion taking care of those fields is a little more important than 0.8 miles of brick streets,” Mackey said.

Under Public Safety: Items included the Bureau of Police requests for police cars, video surveillance, firearms, a long term evidence storage facility, police radios, body cameras, a watch guard service and public safety building — listed at a six-year total of $17.6 million.

Bureau of Fire requests included a pumper, a tower ladder truck, support vehicles, improvements at all facilities, breathing apparatus, computer software, fire hydrants and lateral work for a six-year total of $2.5 million

Bureau of Codes said it needs vehicles budgeted at $85,000.

The complete budget for six years for public safety is $20.3 million.

“I am surprised the public safety building is on the books,” Councilwoman Bonnie Katz said.

Pawlak said the administration kept it on when the council closed out the ad hoc committee of City Hall and thought it should be kept as the city officials look at all public safety departments needs.

“We thought we should keep it on our radar and go from there,” Pawlak said.

Just because it is budgeted for a specific year it is a way to identify the sources to fund the projects does not mean it will be a project, Pawlak said.

Under General Government, there is a wish for support and computer equipment, software, digital mapping and council packet digitization along with camera and phone upgrades with a budget estimate of $1.5 million.

Under transportation the list included transit and support vehicles, garage improvements, and equipment for a six-year total of $17.7 million.

After the planning commission review council holds a second and final reading on the capital projects budget July 8.

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