OCEAN CITY – Now that enough funds have been raised through cost saving initiatives, the Mayor and City Council have decided to move forward with some needed capital projects throughout town.
According to City Manager Dennis Dare, the council approved in 2010 future capital projects for water, wastewater, the convention center, and the airport from the 2010 General Obligation Bonds, user fees, and state and federal grants.
The projects presented to the Mayor and City Council during Tuesday’s meeting are general projects for public works, streets, public safety, and recreation and parks that needed to be considered to be included in the 2012-2016 Capital Improvement Plan.
The Capital Improvement Plan is a five-year infrastructure initiative that matches the town’s highest priority needs of construction with financing.
The list of projects presented to the council included 23 items, a combination of improvements, renovations and new construction in Ocean City.
“Through the foresight of the Mayor and City Council and the dedication of our employees we have been able to maintain ourselves and reduce the tax rate by over 11.4 percent,” Dare said.
Dare said that proactive initiatives have resulted in reducing the workforce from around 620 town employees to about 520 currently.
“We have been able to shrink our budget over the last two years by $8 million and the ability of services has been sustainable at this level,” Dare said.
According to Dare, conservative actions have allowed the town’s undesignated general fund balance to grow to about 17.7 percent.
“Our state goal is 10 percent but due to the uncertainties of our economy we started to raise that to at least 12 percent,” he said. “So you can see we have benefited by being able to raise that and it has helped us through these financially troubling times.”
The numerous measures the City Council have taken have allowed the town to get into a position to once again address some critical infrastructure.
“Previously, we have postponed a lot of things because of the changing conditions but it is time to go back and look at our infrastructure,” Dare said.
Dare proposed to use approximately half of the balance that is over the 12 percent.
“Otherwise between the 12 and 17 percent and use half of that money,” Dare said. “Keep half of it still in reserve but I think that is sufficient and more stable now than it has been in the past.”
That amount of money totals to be about $4 million.
“I am going to suggest to use less than $2 million of that on the capital projects that is being proposed to you today,” Dare said.
The first project Dare proposed out of the three most prioritized projects are street improvements and overlays. This project would include an allocation for milling, regarding, storm drains, pavement, sidewalks for any streets that fall below acceptable condition.
“We have extensive needs in being able to maintain and renovate the roadways before they need to be completely redone,” Dare said.
Over the five-year period of the Capital Improvement Plan, Dare proposed to spend $1 million a year on street improvements.
The $1 million will be spent during the spring and fall seasons, the only two windows during the year that construction can be done to the roadways due to weather conditions.
The next item on the list of priorities is to replace the “wear layer” of the tipping room floor of the transfer station. The existing floor has multiple deep surface cracks and the entire working area is showing signs of advanced deterioration. Ponding of water is occurring due to loss of concrete thickness in several areas.
“It wears and wears,” Dare said. “We have already replaced it once and it needs to be replaced again because it is getting down to where the rebar’s are and then we will really have problems…it is something that needs to be done this year.”
The floor will be replaced by 2012 at a price of around $500,000.
The third highest priority is the roof over the east gym in Northside Park needs to be replaced. The existing roof leaks badly due to failing sealant beneath the seams of the existing metal roof, and the gym cannot be used during heavy rain storms.
“We have patched the patches and now the patches are leaking,” Dare said.
The roof of the east gym should also be replaced within the year at an estimated cost of $235,000.
According to Dare, if those three projects are completed within the year, it will cost around $1.7 million.
“If you use that out of that fund balance now, you could still maintain a really good reserve,” Dare said.
Councilman Lloyd Martin said those projects make sense.
“They need to be done right now,” he said. “We need to start on them as fast as we can.”
Martin made a motion to include $2 million of the undesignated fund balance for street improvements, the replacement of the tipping floor of the transfer station and a new roof over the east gym at Northside Park to be placed in this year’s budget. The motion was seconded by Councilwoman Mary Knight and passed in a vote of 6-1, with Councilwoman Margaret Pillas abstaining from the vote.
Other prioritized items on the list are canal dredging, a new comfort station in Carolina Street, two new parking lots downtown, Boardwalk reconstruction, landscaping on 94th Street, street improvements in Caine Woods, demolition and upgrade of St. Louis Avenue, construction of a bus lane Philadelphia Avenue and south, reconstruction of Fire Station 4, skate park renovation and reconstruction on 3rd Street, renovation of the downtown recreation complex, a new Art League building, and the construction of a parking garage on Worchester Street.
Additionally, there were several projects in Northside Park that include an expansion of its maintenance garage, bio-retention improvements, new lights for the soccer fields, installation of exercise stations and warm up areas and new asphalt overlay for the parking lot.
Mayor Rick Meehan said that in the future he would like to see the town move forward with canal dredging.
“I think a lot of our residents have been waiting for that to occur and I think it would also help with property values as well,” he said.
He would also like to see a new Art League building move forward into construction, especially since a group in town has raised over $300,000 in a donation towards the building.