Salisbury Reviews Capital Plan

SALISBURY — The Salisbury City Council reviewed its current five-year Capital Improvement Plan (CIP) last month, and some of the biggest concerns were vehicle and road maintenance and putting in place a nearly $80 million Watershed Implementation Plan (WIP) that will be able to satisfy the Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE).

“This CIP for this five-year period is really dominated by two programs,” said City Administrator John Pick. “One is the Watershed Implementation Plan, or WIP, which is in the stormwater management section. And that has a total price tag of $76.6 million … the other program that dominates the CIP is the wastewater treatment plant, which has a price tag of $58,586,200.”

Public Works Director Teresa Gardner explained that the WIP will be an overreaching program by the city to improve environmental policies meant to curtail runoff into the Chesapeake Bay. The plan will be a collection of strategies made by Salisbury in that regard. Unfortunately, Gardner told the council that the city’s urban development will make the WIP incredibly expensive to put into place.

“The biggest struggle for us is because we’re an urban environment we can’t do a lot of the cheaper work, like the ditch work or the natural shorelines; the things that we could do in-house to keep our costs minimum,” Gardner said. “This is going to be much more costly for the city because of our urban environment.”

Gardner added that the city needs to be cautious when acting on the WIP since all efforts will be under MDE’s microscope and will have to meet the agency’s qualifications.

Council President Terry Cohen asked Gardner to keep the council in the loop with how the WIP develops, especially since MDE qualifications could change over the next few years. Currently, Cohen said that the MDE mandates for WIPs are something that “nobody can meet” on a realistic budget.  

While the WIP looks to be the biggest single cost project for Salisbury in the next five years, Councilwoman Laura Mitchell said that her major concern when looking at the CIP is that maintenance of emergency vehicles and city roads are continually addressed.

“We need to be concerned that when someone calls an ambulance, that ambulance starts,” she said.

In past budgets, Mitchell noted that the city has occasionally been forced to rush replacements of vehicles that were well past their prime. This sometimes led to shifting funds within the budget away from other projects.

“In some cases, we had to rob Peter to pay Paul,” she claimed.

Mitchell called on the council to be proactive in the next five years by performing “routine rotation maintenance” on police, fire, rescue, and other city vehicles and replacing older equipment once it is beyond its operating life instead of waiting for it to breakdown. She advised a similar approach to repairing roads by avoiding “patch work” that would be a temporary fix and instead looking to make lasting, significant repairs when necessary.

One other concern that Mitchell touched on is how events at the federal level of government could impact Salisbury’s CIP, which Pick stressed is always loose when trying to forecast a five-year window.

“They’re making it impossible for us to plan,” said Mitchell of federal politicians.

It is Mitchell’s fear that federal grant money, which funds a variety of Salisbury’s programs and organizations, could dry up noticeably within the next five years.