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Vol. LXIII, No. 37
Wednesday, September 16, 2009
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Smallest Capital Budget in Decade Gets Go Ahead From Borough Council

Dilshanie Perera

With four bond ordinances having to do with capital budgets introduced last Tuesday, Borough Council debated various plans, like the Harrison Street Park rehabilitation, and the renovation of the Council Room, setting aside about $1.63 million for Borough capital projects for 2009.

The public hearing and adoption of the ordinances will occur on September 22, in Borough Hall at 7:30 p.m.

In a memo to Council, Administrator Bob Bruschi said that of the original capital requests made by various departments, approximately half were being recommended, making the capital budget the smallest in the past decade.

The projects that would receive funding from the ordinances range from public works to parking operations, with Mr. Bruschi observing that “parks, playgrounds, police, emergency services, some engineering, and roads” were included as well.

With $1,459,200 appropriated for Borough capital improvements, $586,000 was set aside for joint agency capital improvements. Mr. Bruschi noted that Township Committee had already introduced their portion of the funding for joint projects, and that the budgets had been reviewed by both finance committees.

The ordinances also appropriated $720,000 from the sewer escrow trust fund for rehabilitating the Borough’s sewers, and $226,000 for various improvements to the parking utility.

The $1,459,200 is down from the originally proposed $1,588,000 in the ordinance, because Council did not feel comfortable allocating the proposed $128,800 for lighting, sound, and technology updates to the Council meeting room, and other administrative costs.

Mr. Bruschi explained that the room not only serves as the Council meeting space, but also as the court room, while accommodating classes and training. “Technologically, this room is circa 1975, and the efficiency from a lighting perspective, and the sound system are very poor,” he said.

“I don’t want to authorize that kind of funding,” Council member David Goldfarb announced, particularly when “all of us are facing financial pressures.” He added that in some cases, “funding gets approved, the administration proceeds, and sometimes we don’t see it again until it gets to the bill list.”

Council member Kevin Wilkes agreed with Mr. Goldfarb, saying that he was “not comfortable” spending the money “until we have a plan in mind.”

“I’d rather spend some money on getting the municipalities to merge, so we can get down there, and turn this into a dancehall,” Mr. Wilkes said.

When asked about the $75,000 allocated to purchase a new server and upgrade computers, Mr. Bruschi noted that the current server is seven years old, and was actually due to be replaced last year. “We can’t afford to have our server crash.”

Borough Engineer Chris Budzinski added that “we’re at a max on storage, and it’s running really slowly,” to which Mr. Wilkes responded that the request seemed reasonable.

“We want to make sure we’re spending every taxpayer dollar as wisely as possible,” Mr. Wilkes said.

Council member Barbara Trelstad expressed concern that the most recent Harrison Street Park proposals had not yet come before the Public Works Committee prior to introducing the ordinance. Mr. Bruschi explained that they wanted to “advance the funding so that it could get started before the end of the year,” assuring that Council could cancel the balance at the end of the year.

The Borough’s obligation for funding Harrison Street Park is $480,000, with additional funding through joint agency appropriations totaling $147,000. “This will be more that sufficient to cover the award of the contract as well as the additional professional costs related to the inspection,” Mr. Bruschi asserted.

On the topic of the new pool, Mr. Goldfarb said that the “total municipal commitment is likely to exceed the total municipal commitment for the public library,” predicting that the cost of renovation and installation would be between $6.5 and 7.5 million.

“This is the kind of thing that really busts budgets,” Mr. Goldfarb lamented, though he noted that most members of the joint finance committees are “generally in favor of spending millions of dollars to finance the pool.”

Mr. Bruschi said that the various options, and stages of renovation had not been fully articulated yet, so there would be “some flexibility going forward.”

“I’m not opposed to a pool, but I am opposed to a seven million dollar pool without a community-wide discussion,” Ms. Trelstad noted.

“We’re only dealing at this point with conceptual sketches,” Mr. Wilkes said, “We want to look at alternatives.” He explained that in the event of emergency repairs the commercial filtration system of the current pool required special parts that are no longer manufactured, and suggested that Council determine an approach to evaluate repairing versus a general overhaul.

“We have got to keep the pool going,” Council President Andrew Koontz said of the 42-year-old facility, adding that the community has been and continues to be involved in a robust discussion. “I think the Finance Committee is moving in the right direction.”

Recreation Director Jack Roberts is scheduled to address Council regarding the pool at the October 6 meeting.

Regarding capital improvements having to do with parking, Mr. Bruschi explained that the parking meters would need to be replaced to phase in new technology. “We will look at what the options are, and will make an educated guess as to what technology will last the longest,” he said.

An $85,000 request was made for improved, energy-efficient lighting in the municipal parking garage. Mr. Wilkes said that “we pay an extraordinary amount of money to light the garage right now,” estimating that over $50,000 per year was spent on the electricity bill. The new lights would cut the cost by half, use fewer lamps, and last for eight to 10 years.

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