Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Capital Budget '10/11: police, fire, sewers discussion

The Council discussed the 2010 / 2011 capital budget tonight, including:


Fire Chief Jack Casner explained the need for $425,000 for new "breathing apparatus." Here are some details:He noted that other top grade equipment would cost more... to the tune of $300,000.

$300,000 for water mains were also discussed. And since water mains seem to have $300,000 being requested every year, I asked for clarification on the need to aggregate multi-year projects in relation to a referendum. I now understand that if a capital budget item is earmarked for a particular project (i.e. water mains for Wyndemere Court or open space for Lot C at the northeast corner of West Johnson and Peck), then it need not be included in the aggregation of a referendum question. But if a project is vague (i.e. water mains or open space), then those numbers must be aggregated to meet referendum requirements. And apparently this may lead to a delay in capital budget vote from August 24 to August 31.

Here are some details on the Chief's water main wish list:As we discussed this list, I noted that we'd be digging up roads. So I reminded everyone about last week's BOE meeting when we learned that the schools are looking for more information about the use of natural gas at Doolittle and Norton... noting that would require roads to be excavated. And then tied together those two town goals with a request I've gotten from some residents regarding the possibility of NG pipelines on their streets, so they can fight the volatile and high prices of heating oil. In other words, the Fire Dept, Schools and some residents want their roads excavated for various reasons. I asked that we try to ensure everyone is aware of these somewhat related interests.


Police Chief Mike Cruess explained the need to continue replacing the PD vehicle fleet. He provided this spreadsheet of the mileage on his fleet:I know this is all public info, but I still covered the make / model of the unmarked cars. And lastly, police car mileage often has greater wear than similar non-police cars. This is because cop cars are often idling and ready to go.

Chief Cruess also explained the benefit of GIS to the PD. My main question here related to speed traps. Thing is, I get calls from constituents for speed traps on their roads. And while I try to help, my preference would be to have an unbiased system in place to determine where speed traps should be located. So I asked if a GIS would be able to track 911 calls, speed limits by road, and other data related to speeding... thus giving the police a tool to determine the best use of their time. That would put it back on the Council to fund (or not fund) an increase in the number of patrolmen on the beat... and reduce the potential for favoritism when residents or elected officials ask the police for a speed trap. And FWIW, I view this as an extension of my 2008 call for the Council to set the criteria used to prioritize Public Works projects.

Last item on the police was that I confirmed that we are not bonding these police cars. I really wasn't sure if that was the plan. And I now know the idea is to pay for them using the CNR account. That's good news. But I still encourage voters to keep an eye on this sort of stuff... shifting operating expenses to the capital budget is too easy and tempting for town officials interested in minimizing tax increases.


Dennis Dievert, Sewer Plant Superintendent, and John Atwood, WPCA Chairman, made the case for sewers. They feel that the West Johnson and Cook Hill Pump Stations are on their last legs. As such, they requested the planning money for each be included in this year's capital budget. That's $180k for West Johnson and $120k for Cook Hill. They further explained that although these pump stations were functioning, their continued useful life is uncertain. So they hoped to get the planning money for the two pump stations, in case they flatline. I then asked if it made sense to aggregate the $1,700,000 West Johnson upgrade and $1,200,000 Cook Hill upgrade in with the $30,000,000 sewer plant upgrade. And not to make light of the real need to restrain spending, I questioned if it made sense to send all three to referendum for $32,900,000? I figure:

a) all three projects need to be done;
b) although money is appropriated, the money need not be spent... pump station upgrades could be delayed... but the money would have been approved... or rejected.

So depending on the continued functionality of the pump stations over the next twelve months... it may make sense to aggregate the Plant and Pump Station upgrades. Which, btw, would complete the pump station upgrades that were begun circa 1996. So hopefully, no more would need to be done for several years.

One other interesting point raised by Dennis was this graph:The solid red line is from 2006 and the solid blue line is 2010... and the dotted red line relates to some torrential rain we got before we finally sealed the open sewer pipes. So this graph suggests that Dennis' efforts have been helpful... to say the least.

Planning, Economic Development, Senior Services

We also briefly discussed these department budgets. I'm doubtful you'll see the $1 million for open space get into the budget. We already have $1.1 million (plus the CNR fund) available for open space purchases.

The Economic Development budget related primarily to the sidewalks proposed for the north side of West Main from Grove Street to Rumberg or Waverly:I think that sidewalk is worth it. But I have no interest in spending money on pretty street lamps and decorations at the bottom of the hill right now.

Unrelated to the above mentioned departments, I also learned today that there are a number of reasons why the planned August 24 Capital Budget vote may be delayed until August 31. One of the reasons is IMO illegitimate: the turf. The Turf Investigation Committee is not yet done with their report. But there are other reasons. Regardless, a year ago I voiced my annoyance about the capital budget vote getting delayed. So I say it again. The uncertainty related to the date of the vote is annoying because I won't be in the country that day! And speaking of... if you have a few bucks and you are interested, you can donate to the Haitian Health Foundation by clicking here.

Anyway... the public hearing is on Wednesday, August 18 at 7:30pm in Town Hall. Hope you can make it!

Tim White


Anonymous said...

Tim, why should vague projects even get past the initial screening process? No wonder government at all levels in America has a massive impending issue with too much debt.

Our town council should simply throw out any items which pass the vague test. It would be a good learning moment for those who prepare vague budget requests and no doubt many voters would appreciate it too.

"...But if a project is vague (i.e. water mains or open space), then those numbers must be aggregated to meet referendum requirements. And apparently this may lead to a delay in capital budget vote from August 24 to August 31...."

Anonymous said...

Why put such an expensive brick walkway in front of a couple of service stations, a lumberyard, a pizza parloe and a convenience store?
Save some money and use concrete. 5 years from now, many of the bricks will be chipped and and missing, it will look terrible and will be an acceident waiting to happen. Didn't they learn from doing it on South Main??
Who decided on the bricks?
Are they ecpecting some major development in that area?
Maybe the convenience store will get a new paint job.
Waste of money in my opinion.

Anonymous said...

The "streetscape" project is a stupid waste of money. The fact that our council requested this money is proof that these people should be in the audience instead of behind the desk. Did anyone look at the sidewalk by St. Peters Church? It is ruined. You cannot use a snowblower on brick. Who in the employ of the town can operate a shovel? Nobody. Think of the added cost these business owners will incur having to pay more for snow removal. Who will be responsible for fixing the chipped and broken bricks? The town. We "fixed" the ones on Main St and they look worse.
Has anyone considered how the gas line is going to be placed next to a new brick sidewalk? All this work and the gas line is going to damage what is there. How are they going to cross the canal? This work should have waited until after the gas main is installed.
Finally, the addition of 2 more poles between every telephone pole is beyond rediculous. Just in the area started already, there will be 10 more poles along with the pre-existing telephone poles and state mandated signage. I cannot wait to see who gets killed in an accident first in that area. Maybe we can name it in their honor.