Repair, Not Replace in the Raleigh Capital Improvement Budget

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With the economy still on the mend, the City of Raleigh Capital Improvement Program has changed its focus. Instead of creating and starting new projects, city officials plan to focus on renovating and updating existing public facilities, transportation and public utilities.

The budget proposed for the Capital Improvement Program allocates money strictly for the 2011-2012 fiscal year. The program also outlines future projects that the city will start within the next 10 years.

“Our focus in this and our last Capital Improvements Budget was on maintaining the existing infrastructure of the city,” said Stephen Bentley, Capital Improvement Program manager.

The Capital Improvements Program is broken up into six separate areas, or departments, with each receiving a certain amount of appropriations based on availability, bonds and necessity.

The Parks Department will receive $116.9 million, with $7.7 million of that coming from a 2007 bond that ends after this fiscal year. The General Public Improvements Department will receive $228.8 million, while the Housing and Transportation departments will receive $15.6 million and $70.1 million, respectively.

Rounding out the appropriations are the Public Utilities and Stormwater Utility departments, which will receive $372.4 million and $72.9 million each, with most of that money coming from rates, fees and charges that city residents pay.

“Every dollar that somebody pays for a stormwater fee stays in the stormwater system,” said City Manager Russell Allen. “It goes to either operate, maintain or build new infrastructures. That is a dedicated source of revenue and that is the same thing for water and sewer.”

The new projects in this year’s Capital Improvements Program include a proposed bond referendum for housing and transportation that will make up a good amount of the appropriations each department receives.

If passed, Housing Development would receive $15 million, while the transportation system would get $37 million to fund future projects that include the usual street resurfacing and widening, but also pedestrian improvements.

“The bond has a number of projects but predominately those projects are focused on pedestrian improvements such as crosswalks and bike striping,” Bentley said.

The Capital Improvements Program still lacks a lot of funding for many of the projects city officials hopes to accomplish.  Officials are still looking to build new public safety facilities, replace the city’s aging vehicle fleet and build new facilities for parks and recreation, among other things.

“There is no funding source in there,” Allen said.  “The projects are listed but there is no dedicated funding for that.”

Allen also said due to the lack of funding, the city is focusing on fixing up equipment and facilities instead of replacing them.

“Things like roof replacements, mechanical system replaces, things that we are just patching, but should really be replaced,” Allen said.

One program, the Clarence E. Lightner Public Safety Center, seems to be in a holding pattern. The City Council has planned in the budget for $7 million to go to the project. However, that is with the understanding that there is zero funding for the program and that nothing can be done about it until the council decides its fate.

Progress on the Lightner Center has been deadlocked since late last year, when councilors couldn’t agree on how to move forward with new public safety center facilities. Half of the council members said they couldn’t justify spending the money during an economic downturn.

“We still have that project built into the capital program, but we acknowledge that there is no source of funding for it at this point,” Allen said.  “So we are not planning on spending any more money on the Clarence Lightner Public Safety Center until the council authorizes.”

The budget has been submitted to the Raleigh City Council, which has until the end of June to make changes before adoption. Allen believes the review will be done quickly without any major changes.

“I don’t know that they will make any changes to the capital budget,” Allen said. “They may and they certainly could, but typically the changes they make are relatively minor changes in the operating budget.”

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