CARS HOMES JOBS

Council puts $8M in pot to spend

Give-and-take new for city

Saturday, September 13, 2008
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— The City Council on Friday unanimously approved a capital program that would require almost $8 million in spending next year.

Council members, who campaigned to bring civility back to City Hall, negotiated several last-minute compromises, including adding $3 million into the plan toward a public safety building and reducing the amount budgeted next year on the waterfront park on Saratoga Lake.

The vote after a two-hour meeting did not authorize the City Council to spend the money. The council will be required to vote on the capital budget as part of the complete budget that must be approved by Nov. 30.

After a first vote at Friday afternoon’s meeting for $5.1 million for 2009 projects was defeated by a 3-2 vote, officials hauled out the bargaining chips.

Mayor Scott Johnson, who presided over the capital budget committee that drew up the prioritized list of projects, wouldn’t take no for an answer.

“I’m not leaving here without a capital program,” he said.

The three dissenters, commissioners John Franck, Ron Kim and Ken Ivins, were uncomfortable voting for $1.3 million next year to develop the waterfront park while ignoring a public safety building, which all five agree is necessary, although they have differed on how much they want to spend and how it should be built.

Ironically, Franck ran with an idea presented during the public comment period by local lawyer Peter Tulin to insert a line item into the budget for the public safety building even if they don’t fund the full amount. The two men have been on opposing sides of the split Democratic Party.

Franck’s $3 million line item made the final cut. That amount won’t cover the whole facility but will get the city started on a new building, Franck said.

Johnson said city officials jointly would release in a week or two a new request for proposals to develop the city-owned parking lot at the corner of Lake and Maple avenues.

Previous requests from developers have come from one City Council member, most recently Kim.

Several members of the public urged the council during public hearings this week to consider adding money for a new public safety building to replace the outdated 1871 police station on the lower level of City Hall.

Some asked the council not to pit the recreation and public safety projects against each other.

“This ought not to be a quid pro quo,” said Remigia Foy, a former finance commissioner who said she wanted to see the city complete the waterfront park.

During the last 10 minutes of the meeting, Johnson, a former litigation attorney, unwrapped Plan B for his pet project, conceding he could open the waterfront park next year with $700,000 and spend the rest in future years.

The approved program also advances a $700,000 project to run a water line onto Gilbert Road on the city’s east side, where a handful of residents do not have public water.

Officials and those residents said the project benefits not just those residents, but the entire communities east of Interstate 87 in case the single water line going east under the highway fails.

The project was originally planned for 2010, but residents lobbied to have it completed sooner. In exchange, Scirocco gave up $325,000 in other projects on his slate.

The final tally for next year’s projects is $7.8 million, Johnson said.

The give-and-take during the meeting was a far cry from last year’s capital program talks, which ended without agreement from the previous council on the spending plan.

“I think this is the way the public wants us to work,” Ivins said of this year’s compromise. The audience of about 40 people applauded after the unanimous vote.

Ivins, the commissioner of finance, said he will unveil a comprehensive budget plan for next year at the Oct. 7 City Council meeting.

 
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