Carbondale must hit reserves for basic needs
Carbondale is looking at a bare-bones capital improvements budget, and some trustees say a new tax may be the only thing to fix it.
Carbondale’s five-year capital improvements plan lists dozens of projects, but most of them are pushed into later years. For next year, the town is already tapping $500,000 in reserves just to pay for basic infrastructure maintenance.
The town board also must find money for any public safety improvements identified in recent discussions prompted by assaults on two women.
Trustees also are acutely aware that a proposed tax for capital improvements was soundly rejected in the April city election.
The 2017 proposed budget anticipates pulling about $500,000 from reserves, which is also about the same amount proposed to be spent from the capital improvements fund on transportation and parks.
About $482,000 is slated for transportation spending, with only about $45,000 allocated for parks and open spaces next year.
But most of the capital improvements budget for 2017 is covering only annual street and sidewalk maintenance. Nearly all of Carbondale’s projects to expand infrastructure will have to wait.
In 2018, proposed spending on transportation infrastructure rises to $589,000, then $1.1 million in 2019, another $1.1 million in 2020 and $2.8 million in 2021.
Parks and open spaces plans follow a similar pattern: $45,000 for 2017, then $157,000 in 2018, $505,000 in 2019, $3.6 million in 2020 and $456,000 in 2021.
With the town pulling from reserves to pay for basic maintenance next year, it’s unclear where all this extra money will come from in the years after that.
“When you get out to 2019 and 2020, we’ve got some real issues coming forward,” said Town Manager Jay Harrington. Those challenges are what motivated the previous board to propose a property tax that voters rejected in April, he said.
A planned but delayed new City Market is expected to buoy sales tax revenue, but the town won’t see that money until 2018. Harrington declined to venture an estimate on how big a revenue boost the new grocery store would bring.
That revenue increase won’t be one that “takes care of all our problems,” said Harrington. It might bring the town up to the revenue level it needs for 2018, but it won’t be enough to cover what it needs in 2019 and 2020, he said.
Larry Ballenger, in his last week before retiring as public works director, said trustees will need to work with staff and the other boards and commissions to “see what heavy cream comes to the top, what we need to make a priority and put into that five-year budget.”
“It seems like there’s not a lot of discretion here,” said Trustee Ben Bohmfalk. That half-million dollars will cover only “the very basics of street maintenance,” he said. And he questioned where staff thought the money will come from for the multimillion dollar spending planned for the following years.
“I worried about that when I established this spreadsheet, and I’m going to worry about it Monday morning when I’m citizen Larry Ballenger,” said the public works director.
“I’m a big supporter of maintaining our infrastructure, but at the same time, if it was 2008, we wouldn’t have to do that maintenance,” said Mayor Pro Tem Dan Richardson. “We could defer it, [though] we add to expenses down the road.”
Trustee Marty Silverstein was concerned about the mounting costs of repair work if that maintenance is put off too long.
“If you look at our road and drainage infrastructure, you get to a point where it’s not worth it to maintain it because it’s too far gone,” said Harrington.
Harrington said Meadowood Drive is at a “failure point,” and Village Road is not far behind.
“With most of this maintenance work you either keep up on it or you swallow a bigger bill down the line,” he said.
Bohmfalk was also thinking forward to continued discussions on public safety.
Carbondale’s Bikes, Pedestrians and Trails Commission is scheduled to take up the public safety discussion Monday. Community safety has been often discussed since two Carbondale women were assaulted this summer while walking alone through town. One of the main improvements residents have called for is more lighting, but the board has suffered some sticker shock from estimates in the hundreds of thousands of dollars for such improvements.
Though these discussions will likely yield a lot of ideas about how to improve public safety “the numbers are just so huge, and the funds so nonexistent that the whole thing feels kind of futile right now,” said Bohmfalk.
Trustee Heather Henry said the $45,000 planned for parks and open spaces in 2017 was “almost offensive for the size of town we are and the focus on recreation and how heavily our parks are used.”
“Parks are a huge priority to this community,” said Silverstein. “I don’t know how we’re going to do it … but we need to find some money somewhere for at least some of this.”
The capital improvements fund doesn’t, however, pay for all of Carbondale’s capital improvements. For example, a planned rebuild of Third Street (about $500,000) is allocated out of the town’s “streetscape fund.”
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