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Portland City Council committee tackles capital improvements

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Portland City Council committee tackles capital improvements

PORTLAND — With an approved city budget in hand, the City Council Finance Committee has turned its sights to the Capital Improvement Plan, starting with a public hearing on May 24.

City Manager Mark Rees presented his recommendations for spending on city buildings and infrastructure in 2013, as well as a framework for the four years following.

He previously outlined the plan at a Finance Committee meeting in early April; last week's meeting was the first chance for the public to comment.

Rees' proposed CIP spending for 2013 totals just over $15 million for repairs and replacement of infrastructure and facilities, and the purchase of new equipment and technology. Project spending must be approved by the City Council, and Rees said his proposal is a starting point from which the council would move forward.

Among the infrastructure projects proposed for fiscal 2013 are reconfigurations of Spring Street and Park Avenue; improvements to pedestrian and bicycle ways on Forest Avenue; the repaving of Congress Street on Munjoy Hill and Capisic Street, and sewer-related improvements to streets throughout the city. Infrastructure projects represent $6.6 million of Rees' spending.

Rees suggested spending another $5.2 million for facility improvements, including the first phase of replacing Hall School,  construction of a new central kitchen for the School department and the transfer station on Great Diamond Island, an expansion of Evergreen Cemetery, and the replacement of stadium lights at Fitzpatrick Stadium.

He also suggested $2.6 million in spending on technology and equipment – mostly for the first phase of a school technology purchasing plan that the City Council shifted to the CIP from the school budget – and $775,000 for vehicles.

Of the approximately 20 members of the public who attended the meeting Thursday, several expressed support for what they called desperately needed attention to Hall School.

Only 11 others projects rank higher than Hall on the state's list of  schools eligible for state aid. It serves the largest geographic area of any of the city's elementary schools, Principal Kelly Hasson said.

"The impact that this has on a large segment of the city's population is significant," she said. "Those short-term resolutions – we're running out of them."

The Finance Committee will again take public comment at a June 14 meeting. Its recommendations will go to the City Council in time for the council to vote before the start of the new fiscal calendar on July 1.

The full, five-year plan running through 2017 that Rees developed is a new procedure for the city, required by the most recent update to the City Charter, which also resulted in the creation of an elected mayor.

Rees' proposed spending for fiscal years 2014-2017 is intended to be an anticipatory guide for the City Council. The plan will be reviewed annually, with the council voting each year only on the next fiscal year.

The projects are chosen through a scoring system that ranks proposals based on associated legal obligation, their service to the public, funding sources, and others. Rees proposed $180 million in spending on nearly 400 projects over the five-year period. 

In some cases, members of the public pointed out that completing projects on the time line proposed by Rees could cause a project to lose funds, or to conflict with city regulations.

Diane Davison, president of Friends of the Eastern Promenade, pointed out that waiting until 2016 to perform proposed paving and utility restorations to Fort Allen Park would put the project at odds with a five-year moratorium on digging in the area that would be enacted if the Munjoy Hill section of Congress Street is repaved in 2013.

The Finance Committee chairman, Councilor John Anton, asked that city staff reassess the five-year plan to see if any other projects would face similar conflicts.

Andrew Cullen can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 100 or acullen@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @ACullenFore.