Categorized | IN OUR COMMUNITY

CIB recommendation process changed by St. Paul City Council

Posted on 08 November 2016 by Calvin

Hoping for a new bicycle route, a tot lot or park redesign? Your wish will likely have to wait, at least until 2020. How St. Paul funds its playgrounds, fire stations, recreation centers, and other public facilities is changing, as a result of City Council action earlier this fall.

The 45-year-old Long-Range Capital Improvement Budget (CIB) won’t include a citywide competitive process in 2017, for 2018-2019 projects. Nor will it include a comprehensive task force review process. Instead, the focus will be on completing Frogtown’s Scheffer Recreation Center and West Midway’s Fire Station 20 in 2018-2019 and maintaining existing infrastructure and programs.

Capital maintenance is a growing need citywide. Council President Russ Stark, whose Fourth Ward includes several area neighborhoods, said he is noticing more city facilities in need of repair. One example he cites is Hamline-Midway’s Hancock Recreation Center, which has water damage.
“We see examples similar to that all over the city,” he said.

An upcoming inventory of all parks buildings and facilities should give an indication of the extent of what has to be repaired. The cost could easily reach into the millions of dollars. Add in deferred maintenance at libraries and other facilities, and the costs will only rise. The council wants to add $630,000 to the 2017 budget for capital maintenance, on top of more than $1 million already earmarked by Mayor Chris Coleman. But council members said that just scratches the surface.

Parks and libraries get a lot of use and sustain a lot of wear and tear. Changing needs is another issue, especially for libraries where technology and facility use have rapidly evolved. Rondo Community Outreach Library at Dale and University avenues is just ten years old. But it needs about $500,000 in renovations due to heavy patron use as well as changing space needs.

Some activists, booster clubs, and district councils had already started discussing which capital projects to submit in 2017. The change means that projects may have to wait. That is likely to include work on Dickerman Park at University and Fairview avenues, modernization of the Hamline-Midway Branch Library at 1558 W. Minnehaha Ave., and the long-delayed, multi-million dollar plan to extend Pierce Butler Rte. to I-35E.

The Pierce Butler extension, which has a cost of more than $11 million, has been discussed since the late 1980s. Ward One Council Member Dai Thao and Department of Public Works Director Kathy Lantry recently butted heads over a Public Works decision to move a smaller amount of funding from Pierce Butler to other projects.

What is described as a capital improvements project process “pause” is driven by various factors. One is the city’s growing need to maintain its existing facilities. Stark said the large cost of new facilities is another factor in reviewing the process. The 2016 capital budget is $40.463 million. 2017 has $54.288 million penciled in. Most is dedicated state and federal funding for specific projects or is earmarked for ongoing projects and programs.

The most flexible funding is about $11 million per year, which may cover one large project. Major requests sometimes have to go through multiple funding cycles. “That’s a hard way to do a project,” Deputy Mayor Kristin Beckmann said.

A third issue is racial equity, to make sure everyone has a chance to be involved in the process, and to look at changes in community engagement.

A fourth concern is volunteer time. Not only do volunteers develop projects and shepherd them through the process, volunteers from all 17 district councils serve on the CIB Committee’s three citizen task forces. Some district councils struggle to find task force volunteers for several weeks of meetings.

CIB Committee members agree with the need for a process review and changes. But they do have concerns and frustrations with the process, especially the city administration’s penchant for inserting large projects or coming in with its own list of projects before there is any discussion. Another concern is that projects submitted by city departments have more resources to draw on than volunteers can muster.

CIB Committee member Joel Clemmer has served on all three CIB task forces. He said one frustration for task forces is that they spend much time reviewing and ranking projects, only to have large projects move ahead at the last minute. “It feels like a fait accompli sometimes.”

Another worry is that of not allowing any community-driven projects to be submitted in 2017. “My “concern would be that you’re taking away the community’s voice for two or three years,” said committee member Paul Raymond. “I think there’s going to be a backlash.”

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