Ash Files $5.6 Million Capital Improvement Plan

More streets will get resurfaced, water and sewer lines replaced, sidewalks repaired, public buildings renovated and equipment replaced as a result of the $5.6 million capital improvement plan (CIP) filed by City Manager Jay Ash with the City Council this past week.

Ash says his plan not only continues the investment City government is making in Chelsea, but also does so while reducing the future impact that debt service could otherwise have on budgets for years to come.

“The equally big news to the list of the 25 projects to be undertaken in this CIP is that our municipal government continues to operate efficiently and smartly to allow us to not only make significant capital expenditures but also to do so while balancing our overall budget. In fact, the way we’re doing our CIP ensures we don’t have to assume big bills down the road, either through more costly emergency repairs for neglected infrastructure or for years of interest payments on borrowing that many typically use to finance such work.”

Council President Leo Robinson, Councillor Brian Hatleberg (who serves as chairman of the Council’s Sub-Committee on Finance) and Ash have devised and are implementing a strategy to avoid borrowing in bulk for capital projects. The strategy could save hundreds of thousands of dollars in the process.

“Instead of borrowing, let’s say, a million dollars every year and eventually needing to pay a million plus interest back every year on the loans that accumulate, we’re committing a portion of our recurring revenues and Free Cash gained through tightening our belts and watching our every penny to instead pay for our capital needs up-front.  That saves us about $200,000 on every million that we would have otherwise financed,” explained Hatleberg.

Added Council President Robinson, “And that savings means we’re able to afford more infrastructure projects and not need to go to a Proposition 2 ½ vote to get more property taxes or otherwise raise fees to pay for that. In essence, we’re saving our dollars up front to pay out of pocket for our needs and by not incurring any long-term interest charges we’re able to save even more.”

To highlight the point, the trio noted that as recently as fiscal year 2010, the City borrowed $1.6 million for general projects. The fiscal year 2013 plan borrows just $590,000.

“We had two back-to-back years of borrowing $1.6 million,” said Hatleberg. “This last year and with today’s filing, instead of a combined $3.2 million in borrowing, we’re at $1 million and actually doing more infrastructure projects as a result. This is a great success story and one of the benefits of all of us being fiscally prudent.”

Regarding those 25 projects, seven costing $496,250 are for equipment acquisitions, two costing $315,300 are for open space, four costing $194,550 are for public buildings, two costing $152,000 are for public safety, three costing $630,000 are for surface enhancements and seven costing $3,789,600 are funding utility enhancements.

“I’m thrilled to see that Lash Street will get a complete make-over,” said new Councillor Paul Murphy, who advocated for the project after hearing from neighborhood residents of flooding problems on that street.  “That utility and roadway project and the others in the CIP are important for residents to see and us to be able to figure out how to afford.  It’s great that this CIP does both.”

In addition to Lash Street, a portion of John Street will also see utility and roadway work if the CIP is adopted. Other streets targeted for work include:

•a portion of Central Avenue for drainage repairs

•sidewalk and roadway replacements on Warren Avenue, Hillside Avenue and Summit Avenue, from Warren to Webster Avenues.

•both utility and surface replacements on the block created by Spruce, Sixth, Maple and Heard Streets.

“Additionally, we’re committing even more money to the pre-construction work necessary to undertake a massive Broadway reconstruction project, which could be a 2015 project that runs from City Hall to the Revere line,” projected Councillor Calvin Brown.

“The CIP also directs more sidewalk money for spot repairs around the city,” said Councillor Paula Barton.  “As far as I’m concerned, we can’t spend enough on making sure that pedestrians are safe as they walk around.”

Among the most anticipated CIP projects may be the citywide conversion of street lights to LEDs.  A pilot program on several streets and involving 100 lights has resulted in near universal satisfaction, so many Councillors have been anxious to see the City replace another 1,600 street lights with LEDs.

“Many of us have felt that the LEDs are brighter and provide a better quality light.  Those are important qualities for our public safety and neighborhood livability needs,” commented Councillor Dan Cortell.

Councillor Joseph Perlatonda added that the Council is actually working to “accelerate the LED light project even further,” hoping to get the installation performed this spring instead of late summer or early fall.

In addition to updating computer equipment and software, renovating several offices at City Hall and replacing old two-way radios, the CIP provides for the acquisition of three police cruisers, a fire command vehicle and a front end loader for the Department of Public Works.

“Maintaining our rolling fleet by swapping out older, problematic vehicles with new models makes sure our responses are reliable,” suggested Councillor Giovanni Recupero.

Several other visible projects are envisioned in the CIP, including the repair of Stebbins Fountain in Chelsea Square, funding for a future park project and completion of a Gateway Signage program to help direct motorists to various locations throughout the city.

“As we’re adding hotel rooms and seeing other forms of commerce expand here, it makes good business sense and will reduce overall traffic congestion if we make sure people get where their going,” said Councillor Matt Frank. “The Gateway Signage program will be another example that our community is able to respond to all the investment we’re attracting.”

While the CIP is the City’s plan for spending, Councillor Clifford Cunningham did note that a portion of the funds come to the City through State grants.

“Everyone’s pitching in here, including our legislative delegation of Representatives (Eugene) O’Flaherty, (Kathi-Anne) Reinstein and Senator (Sal) DiDomenico, to find the resources to continue to make substantial improvements to the physical aspects of our community, which, in turn, make it easier to help our residents and businesses achieve their own goals,” he said. “The State grant funding, for example, will pay for some of those road repairs and is critical to our park renovation strategies, so the help of our legislative delegation is much appreciated.”

The Council will have several weeks to review the CIP in its entirety before meeting again with Ash to discuss specifics and priorities.  Following that, the Council is expected to hold a public hearing to solicit more input from the public.

“We’re committing public dollars so we have to be very sure we have the public’s input in the process.  In the end, we all want Chelsea to look and be better, and this CIP is one way to reach that goal,” emphasized Councillor Christopher Cataldo.

If approved by the Council, which, by State law, may only delete projects or vote down the entire CIP, projects provided for the FY’13 CIP could begin as soon as July 1, 2012.

“We’ll line up what we can and get prepared once Council acts to add the approved projects to all that we’re doing to keep Chelsea moving forward.  And, we’ll be moving forward together, the Council and Administration again acting jointly to benefit our entire community,” said Ash.

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