Council proposes budget for upcoming fiscal year
The Jamestown Town Council adopted the budget proposal for the upcoming fiscal year at Monday’s meeting, which will be presented to the town voters at the Financial Town Meeting scheduled for June 6.
The proposal, which was debated in several previous workshops, was among the least-contentious financial issues addressed by the councilors during its April 25 meeting.
Town Administrator Bruce Keiser revealed that there will be a surplus of $200,000 to $300,000 when the town closes its books on the current fiscal year. The surplus will be used to offset some of the planned 2011-12 fiscal-year withdrawals from the undesignated fund balance.
The offsets will keep the town’s cash reserves at the healthy level of 18 percent. Meanwhile, the proposed town-and-school budget stands at $21.48 million, with the only change emerging from the Council meeting having been a decision against spending a $4,000 to $8,000 hybrid premium for each of the SUVs that the town will buy for the Fire and Police Departments.
The town-and-school budget proposal represents a 2.93 percent increase over current spending, and it will require the town to raise its property tax rate by 2 percent. That will translate into the addition of 10 cents to the current rate of $9.11 per $1,000.
Resident Blake Dickinson, speaking as president of the Jamestown Taxpayers Association, told the councilors that his group “takes exception to the [proposed] $21,000 expenditure for a bike path study” because that money, he said, would be better spent on road improvements.
The association also opposed the proposed $100,000 allocation to the Fort Getty Improvement Fund because, Dickinson said, the town shouldn’t be earmarking that money for the campground “until we identify a long-term plan for its use.”
Councilor Ellen Winsor, who was the lone councilor to vote against the budget, said that Fort Getty uncertainties figured into her decision to vote against the spending proposal.
“The budget is flawed by inadequate attention to a number of issues,” Winsor said. “Such as a plan for Fort Getty and a plan for [emergency medical service] transition to [advanced-level service]. Allocating such a large amount of money without any actual plans is hardly a forward-thinking approach in these difficult economic times.”
Winsor, along with one other councilor, also voted against a proposal to spend $100,000 of town and Harbor Management Commission money on repairs to the East Ferry seawall, along with a total replacement of the Dumpling Drive seawall. Reminded that the work should be viewed as emergency repairs, Winsor acknowledged that the work is necessary. She argued that there should be some discussion about the appearance of the faux stone that will be used for the work.
Town Engineer Mike Gray explained that the proposed wall system, known as ReCon, is comprised of 2,500-pound blocks of concrete. He also noted that the system has also been used on Ocean Drive in Newport.
“What might look appropriate on Ocean Drive might not be right for Jamestown,” Winsor said. She added that the town should ask landscape architects to review the proposal before the town signed off on the ReCon approach.
Gray, however, was not focused on the aesthetics of ReCon block; instead he focused on its comparatively modest cost: $34,000 to replace 100 feet of East Ferry seawall and $66,000 to replace all of the Dumpling Drive seawall.
Councilor Bob Bowen, while supportive of the ReCon approach, opposed the source of funding for the $100,000 worth of work. Under the motion passed by the Council, half the money would be sourced from the town’s unreserved fund balance; the other half would come from the Harbor Commission’s retained earnings, which will total about $260,000 as of July 1. Bowen felt that all of the money should be sourced from the town’s unreserved fund balance.
Alluding to the many projects on its plate, Bowen pointed out that the Harbor Commission “could spend all of its [retained earnings] this summer. We shouldn’t look at their money as a pot of gold that we can do whatever we want with.”
Bowen also alluded to the looming dispute over definitions for harbor and town structures by saying, “The [East Ferry] seawall isn’t part of the docks and it isn’t a harbor facility.”
Councilor Bill Murphy disagreed, arguing that that the seawall isn’t “a line where the harbor ends and the town begins,” and Council President Mike Schnack observed that, “The Harbor Ordinance and Harbor Plan are intended to keep the harbor from intruding on the land side while improving the access of boaters and non-boaters to the waterfront.”
Winsor argued that the Commission should be brought to the table for its views on a contribution to seawall work and Bowen echoed that argument, saying, “We need to work with the Harbor Commission,” and re-asserting his position that the seawall work “is not harbor related.”
During the Council’s earlier meeting acting as commissioners for the Board of Water and Sewer, Winsor objected to a proposal to re-allocate without prior discussion some surplus funds for waterpipe replacement on Green Lane, where there are major water-quality and water-pressure problems.
Currently, there is $40,000 left over from the money budgeted for wetlands mitigation around the water treatment plant and Gray pointed out that there is an opportunity to buy 2,500 feet of ductile iron pipe before a substantial price increase. Keiser pointed out that Green Lane also needs road repairs, adding that it would make sense to perform the pipe replacement first.
Gray told the councilors that the town would handle the pipe replacement on its own, thereby limiting the cost of the project to the $40,000 price tag for the pipe. But Winsor said she would vote against the proposal because “we need the information about projects like this ahead of time.”
Schnack replied that “voting against a priority like this is shortsighted and I’d rather have Mike [Gray] tell us about the [priority situation] directly.”
Winsor raised a similar objection when, during the regular Council meeting, the councilors addressed a proposal to build a bathroom at West Ferry at a cost of $10,000 to $12,000. There is currently a portable bathroom facility near the Dutch Harbor marina, but the owners of the marina, which has a facility for its customers, asked the town to build a permanent bathroom.
The portable facility is used by visitors to the harbor, along with the owners of boats tied off to town-owned moorings. The marina is using a shack on the town-owned site proposed for the bathroom for fuel storage and “it’s incumbent on the town to get them out,” Bowen said.
Bowen added, however, that the permanent bathroom, which will be built by the town, should not be installed until the marina has had an opportunity to launch all the boats stored along the bulkhead.
“We should have a conversation with them to see how our timing would work with the start of the season,” Bowen said.
Winsor went further, arguing that “this is a last-minute proposal” and that “we should have a conversation with the neighbors as well as the Dutch Harbor marina.”
“This is an opportunistic situation which allows us to address the needs of the neighborhood,” Keiser said, “which is impaired by the presence of a facility which had never been there before. We’re just trying to address the negative impacts of that facility.”