Friday, February 12, 2010

How would increased spending affect SV residents?

$12 million in capital improvements proposed


By TREVON MILLIARD
Express Staff Writer

The number of millions of dollars that Sun Valley will be spending over the next five years to keep essential city services up to par is still up in the air as city leaders debate the definition of "essential."

Mayor Wayne Willich presented his "bare-bones" $9 million plan at Tuesday's meeting of council members and department leaders. He admitted it was shy of all the capital improvement projects that the council was leaning towards, including work on many streets. Willich argued that some projects, including roads categorized as "fair," could wait until the five-year scope of the plan had passed.

But council members Nils Ribi and Joan Lamb said those roads need immediate attention, even though they're not the worst of the bunch, because it's cheaper to rehabilitate roads than to reconstruct them, which is mandatory after a certain point of wear.

This discussion over roads illustrates the greater conflict of points of view. Some want to cut the total dollar amount to the smallest possible, and others are focused on establishing essentiality of projects as the main priority.

"We can't do $19 million," Willich said after presenting his plan, "but must chop $10 million off."

The last meeting in early December ended with $19 million as the total for the projects, though that number was still preliminary.

Ribi and Lamb responded by saying the projects to be undertaken over the next five years must last for 20 years, as is the design of a capital-improvement plan, and can't be looked at from a shortsighted view.

Capital-improvement projects are categorized by facilities improvements, beautification and parks, streets, intersections, paths, "other" and fixed assets. The last of those are things needing replacement or modifications a minimum of every two years, such as police cars and snowplows.

Councilman Dewayne Briscoe pointed out that citizens are the ones with the power to approve the city's plan. And they're going to look at the number.

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"Perception is important," Briscoe said. "The council will just be signing a piece of paper."

Several grants and the city's operating budget could cover some of the projects, but most will have to be funded by bonds. And state law requires that the voters pass a bond issue by a two-thirds vote.

Lamb argued that the council could still stick to the needed projects if it communicates their importance to citizens and explains how the dollar amount would affect them when they pay their property taxes.

The consensus among city leaders at the end of Tuesday's meeting had the total at about $12 million for capital-improvement projects, but the issue is in no way decided.

With the average Sun Valley parcel value at $900,000, the average resident pays about $5,500 in property taxes, about 4 percent of which comes from paying off a $6.5 million bond due to end in 2011. If a $12-million bond were started for capital improvements, it would replace the previous bond and increase an average resident's property taxes by $178, a 3 percent increase.

But, Lamb said, the city doesn't need to take on a $12-million bond up front but can phase in two or three bonds over the five years. That can be done because the projects won't be started right away, but also phased in.

That would limit taxpayers' increases to 2 or even 1 percent.

Trevon Milliard: tmilliard@mtexpress.com




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