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Projects on the chopping block

Warren City Council found money from the capital improvement program to cover a few years of debt service for two new fire trucks.

So what projects does that element of the city budget include?

Here’s a look at those projects and the discussions that took place regarding whether to keep the project on the table or strike it to fund the truck purchase.

The first two projects were ultimately struck for 2020. The other projects detailed will proceed.

Crescent Park improvements associated with a proposed Healing Garden

This project drew the most discussion and drew council’s ire earlier this year when bids came in $200,000 over budget.

The city’s portion is $175,000 and a state grant totals $165,000. Work in the scaled-down project includes an expanded trail and renovated restroom facilities.

“That could either be delayed or just be struck period,” Cashman said of the project.

City Planner David Hildebrand noted that the city has “a certain time period to spend that money” while Department of Public Works Director Mike Holtz noted that construction in 2021 on that project “would be right up against” the deadline to spend the grant.

“So we could put that off one more year,” Councilman John Lewis said.

City Manager Nancy Freenock said that the state has “been in constant contact” with the city and highlighted “issues with the deed and restrictions that should have been on the property in the 1990s.”

She added that there “really is a timeliness issue” with this project and said she would like to see it proceed and it will “only be more costly if we wait.”

Holtz noted the restroom would have to be addressed at some point and that the existing trail would be redone while new trail would be constructed around the park to the Cancer Center parking lot. “We already agreed to do this work,” he said. “Yes, you can quit on the project” but speculated that the city wouldn’t get a playground grant from the state for a while if it did so.

Freenock noted that “DCNR would understand the city saying ‘(We) can’t do any more'” if the next round of bids come in too high. She also said the city could seek additional state funding for the project, an application which could be made early next year.

Holtz said the city wanted to bid this project and a project at Lacy Park at the same time for economies of scale as well as noting that “we’ve had trouble getting people to bid on projects.”

Cashman asked if just the repairs to existing trail and restroom facilities could be done with the grant funds.

“You could do that but you could do that outside the grant. (We) would have to start over,” Holtz said, noting there are also parking, water and electrical improvements included in addition to the trail work and restroom upgrades.

Cashman asked if the grant funding would go away if the new items were removed from the project.

“You wouldn’t get the grant. I can’t believe the state is going to let that happen,” Holtz said.

Lewis then circled this back to the ongoing fire truck need.

“I don’t know what as a city we’re thinking of when thinking of healing gardens, things that are nice amenities,” he said. “What we have here is a special circumstance… putting our firefighters in harm’s way and making them hesitate. What is important here is the safety and employees of the city.”

He went so far as to discuss firefighter response on 9/11 in making his point.

“I don’t want to cut any of this,” Councilman Paul Giannini said to Lewis. “We’re all hitting the same end game. (You) don’t have to act like none of us want to buy a fire truck. We don’t need to play on sympathies.”

Lewis said he was “putting reality in front of you.”

“We don’t need a healing garden,” Holtz acknowledged. “The city’s reputation for future park grants may be in jeopardy. (There is) not a right or wrong answer.”

Freenock reiterated that this project does not include the healing garden itself.

“We are in a budget (crunch),” Cashman said. “We cannot afford amenities and keep adding on them” and turn to the taxpayers for tax increases “so you can have these nice little amenities. Let’s maintain what we have. Let’s not continue to add on when we can’t afford it any longer.”

“That’s your opinion,” Giannini responded.

“If you look at the budget… that’s administration’s position,” Cashman responded.

Giannini said that if it were the administration’s position that the project be struck that it “wouldn’t be in the budget right now.”

Freenock said she would call the state to explain the situation but said that the state is “unlikely to want to fund what could be considered maintenance.”

“Make the call, please,” Cashman said.

300 block W. Fifth Ave.

How this infrastructure project is funded is a little tricky – some of the $593,590 total is from the sewer fund while some is from the general fund – but the work would address flooding issues near the intersection of Fifth Ave. and Hickory St.

“That is something I think we could delay,” Cashman said.

“I would agree with that,” Councilman Greg Fraser said. “We’ve lived with 5th street flooding” and “water problems” for “100 years.”

“One more year is not going to kill it,” Lewis said.

Councilman Phil Gilbert said he agreed, though noted he would have liked to have the work done.

Holtz noted that the “crux of that decision” is that the water company has facilities that are higher in the ground and is in the design phase that “would replicate their facilities lower so we could go in and do our work.”

He estimated the water company’s investment as “a couple hundred thousand dollars.”

“There’s a lot of traffic going on there that needs to be lowered,” Holtz said.

Fraser asked if that work in 2020 and the city’s work in 2021 would coordinate.

“Not really,” Holtz said. “We’re going to open the street and save some money.” He said that changing the project “kills the economy scales of it.”

Freenock noted the water company is undertaking the work in order to accommodate the city.

Street Resurfacing

Mayor Maurice Cashman said the total expenditure for street paving in 2020 is $480,000 with $200,000 coming from the general fund. The city typically utilizes its liquid fuels allocation to supplement funds from the general fund. No members of council objected to this project remaining.

Park Ave.

A federal Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) project on Park Ave. would address surfacing, drainage, curbing, sidewalk and a retaining wall. Cashman called that a “safety issue as far as I’m concerned” and said the city “should proceed forward with it.”

Holtz said the project is set to go out for bid in January 2019.

Lacy Playground

The rehabilitation of the park – which includes a privately-funded sensory playground – includes $165,000 in city funds in addition to the private funds and a $265,000 DCNR park grant.

“That I think should remain,” Cashman said, calling it “a good civic project for a lot of handicapped sensory-type people.”

Freenock said there would be a challenges to the project if the work was put off a year and noted that the Rotary Club, which is coordinating the private fundraising, “has been very good at keeping in touch with us.”

She noted that “for us to get the grant money, (the project) has to be constructed in 2020.”

DPW garage

$30,000 is in the budget for repairs to the Department of Public Works garage on Elm St. The city has a grant for a study to determine what changes are needed at the garage. Cashman said “in my view, that’s a necessity” and the $30,000 was not removed from the budget by council.

200 block Pennsylvania Ave. W. Streetscape

Funds are included in the 2020 budget for engineering and design costs for streetscape in that block.

“That could be up in the air depending on what happens on Clark St.” from a development perspective, Cashman said. “We have a grant that will cover eventually the entire cost.”

Glade Run levee project

$50,000 in city funds are included in this project for right of way relocations. Fraser said that project is “going to happen (and is) going to be our cost. There is no way to avoid it.” Holtz noted that the city will have to spend the $50,000 but noted that the city is “getting a $3.5 million project out of it.”

Third Ave. bridge dredging

$110,000 has been set aside for dredging around the Third Ave. bridge over the Conewango Creek.

“That is a maintenance issue,” Cashman said. “We have been asked to get that out of there.”

He noted the material that accumulates around the bridge can be damaging the bridge.

Holtz noted that the bridges are assessed every two years and noted that the score for the Third Ave. bridge “requires us to do that.”

Several other projects in the CIP were mentioned with little comment as there are private contributions prepared to cover the costs – paint for the downtown fountain, a restroom at Betts Park and repaving the Betts Park tennis courts.

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