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So many projects, but only so much money

NL Council discusses capital projects and spending surplus funds

NORTH LIBERTY– The North Liberty City Council continued its discussion on the Fiscal Year (FY) 2021 budget Tuesday, Jan. 28, during a work session preceding a regular meeting. Council members looked at potential allocations using surplus general fund dollars from FY19 as well as proposed capital projects for the new fiscal year.
General Fund Allocations from FY19 Surplus
City Administrator Ryan Heiar presented options for allocating $1,441,136 in surplus funds from FY19, across two tiers. Tier 1 projects for consideration, he explained, were projects already moving forward, or scheduled to be soon, while Tier 2 projects are only concepts, or ideas, which have been discussed previously.
Heiar proposed spending $702,000 on Tier 1 projects, including new financial software ($80,000), replacing the HVAC system in the Aquatic Center ($340,000), IT and Cyber Security upgrades ($75,000), and applying funds ($212,000) toward an anticipated FY21 General Fund deficit.
Council members expressed a consensus in support of the Tier 1 projects.
Tier 2 projects for consideration included $250,000 toward the county’s access center, $250,000 for land acquisition for a second fire station, $100,000 for preliminary design work on a pavilion for Centennial Park, $100,000 for the preliminary design of a new City Hall or safety upgrades for the current facility, $100,000 toward the dog park, $100,000 for trail lighting and $700,000 for a new road and shelter in Centennial Park.
Mayor Terry Donahue and council member Chris Hoffman explained the county had initially asked for $500,000, however the City decided to spread the amount out over two fiscal years. “We are not releasing the funds until we have a 28E (agreement with the county), which, we do not,” Donahue said. The agreement is currently in the process of being drafted, he added.
Consensus was for the access center allocation, leaving $484,000 available. Council members also gave a nod toward the second fire station, to be located on the west side of North Liberty, in order to avoid having to borrow the money later.
The $100,000 for the Red Fern Dog Park drew discussion as the city has that amount in the FY20 budget, to be borrowed, and Heiar proposed making it an FY21 expenditure (without borrowing) instead. The Johnson County Dog PAC (Park Action Committee) has contributed $50,000 to the park to date, with a pledge of an additional $150,000. Heiar added the “lion’s share of the work” has been done on the park in regards to paving and fencing, “and that’s all been paid for.” Consensus was to support to avoid borrowing later.
The council also expressed consensus for exploring security and safety upgrades for City Hall, with an eye toward a future building adjacent to the new police station as part of a municipal campus. In addition, preliminary design work for a pavilion in Centennial Park was agreed to, with the potential for a fundraising campaign for the actual construction.
The proposed surplus fund allocations leave approximately $84,000 to be placed in the General Fund for purposes yet to be determined.
Capital Projects
Heiar presented several projects currently listed in the FY21 Capital Improvement Plan (CIP).
The fire department, through the North Liberty Firefighters Foundation, has offered to purchase a training tower (to be located at the wastewater plant). Approximately $329,000, funded through general obligation (GO) bonds, would be allocated to construct a road, concrete pad, extend a water line to the site and install a fire hydrant. Fire Chief Brian Platz explained the benefits of the project, including improving the department’s ISO rating, resulting in lower fire insurance premiums. While the council was supportive of the initiative, Mayor Donahue expressed his opposition at this time saying, “He’s (Platz) got other things he’s got to accomplish. There’s things internal that I want to see successfully done first.”
A number of parks and recreation improvements were discussed, including spending $700,000 in TIF Bonds for a shelter and road in Centennial Park (also discussed in the FY19 surplus fund allocations), $400,000 for parking lot improvements at Penn Meadows Park, $125,000 for resurfacing tennis courts and converting two for pickle ball, $500,000 (from GO Bonds) for ball field lights at Penn Meadows’ fields three and four, and $100,000 (from pool capital reserves) to repaint both the indoor and outdoor pools.
Following an extensive discussion over the road, park use, and need for the additional ball field lights, council members trended toward supporting the projects. Mayor Donahue pointed out, “When Guy (Goldsmith) comes, they always have a laundry list of things to do from year to year, and we cannot support them on GO bonds alone.” Donahue stressed the need to find reliable year-to-year funding for the parks, “Instead of just kicking the can down the road all the time. They have no good resource to count on to do this stuff.”
Heiar and the council also discussed two street projects: design work for rebuilding Dubuque Street between Main Street and Cherry Street, and Phase 5 of the Ranshaw Way (Hwy. 965) reconstruction/improvements between Zeller and Hawkeye Drive. The Dubuque Street project has an estimated design cost of $250,000 to be paid for out of GO bonds. According to Heiar, this project, which he described as “complicated,” due to the intersection of Dubuque, Front, and Cherry streets, will require significant land and easement acquisition. The plan is to make the acquisitions and do the design work in FY21 with the actual construction to occur in FY22.
The Ranshaw Way project is budgeted at $8,935,000 to be funded through TIF bonds. Heiar noted the city has $2.5 million in federal grant dollars available in FY21, which can be used. He also pointed out one final phase would remain, between Hawkeye Drive and Penn Street. Council expressed support for these projects as presented.
“I think we’re really close on this,” Heiar said of the budget process.