Salisbury Weighs Capital Projects

SALISBURY — Discussion on the direction of Salisbury’s five-year Capital Improvement Plan (CIP) continued this week with the City Council touching on department vehicle replacement and maintenance schedules, potential building activity, the status of the Poplar Hill Mansion, and where the city stands with the possibility of a stormwater utility and in developing a Watershed Implementation Plan (WIP).

Acting Chief Rick Hoppes of the Salisbury Fire Department began by briefing the council on his plans to extend emergency vehicles’ active life through rotation from front line service into a “reserve fleet.” By buying three new vehicles every five years, Hoppes explained that primary response vehicles could be regulated to secondary service after their first five years, where they could function reliably for another five years, a decade-long cycle in all.

Councilwoman Laura Mitchell asked Hoppes what exactly the acting lifespan for an emergency vehicle is.

“As a frontline response unit, five years,” Hoppes said. “We saw our last units, they were on the frontline for seven years and they were completely done by the time they went away.”

The council still had some questions about the payment structure for the idea, with Mitchell suggesting that they plan on squirreling away part of the funding every budget instead of taking a harder hit every three years.

For Salisbury Police Department vehicles, most of the council’s questions regarded maintenance. Councilman Tim Spies asked Chief Barbara Duncan why so many minor repairs like interior lights in vehicles seemed so expensive.

“Forty-eight dollars for windshield wiper replacements? That seems a little excessive,” he said.

Spies pointed out that some such repairs could be done easily without the use of a mechanic. However, Duncan said that she would rather have her officers concentrate on their jobs then trying to perform maintenance on their own vehicles.

“I’d rather just have them focus on policing and not have to worry about whether they install it correctly or not,” she said, adding that scheduling all vehicle maintenance is handled by their quartermaster and is bid out to private companies like most other city projects.

On the issue of new vehicles, Duncan told the council that, if budgets were not a factor, she’d have every one of her vehicles replaced every 100,000 miles.

“That could be two years, could be three years, depending on who it is assigned to, depending on what sector it is in, depending on how much area that particular vehicle has to cover. We could easily reach that in two years,” the chief said.

During the CIP review, Keith Cordrey, director of Internal Services, spoke to the council about replacing the communications tower on Marine Road that was damaged in a lightning strike about 18 months ago.

“It was built years ago and it’s not structurally safe to have there,” he said.

The estimated cost to replace the tower is $1.1 million and the official end-of-life for the structure is currently 2016. Because the tower is used by other state and county agencies, several on the council asked that the city look into spreading out the expenses of repairing the structure.

Next, Aleta Davis, chair for the Poplar Hill Mansion Board, updated the council on the historic property’s needs and efforts to seek out grant funding. The state of the windows is a current concern, said Davis.

“It’s ruining the furniture, the sun, the upholstery, everything,” she said.

It’s not as simple as going to Wal-Mart and buying curtains, explained Davis. Because of the house’s historic nature, every addition needs to be period-appropriate, which translates to being expensive. Windows, along with other issues of upkeep, have the board searching for sources of grant funding, which is proving difficult.

“It’s been three years since we’ve been able to get anything for historic buildings for capital improvement grants,” she said.

Mitchell suggested that the council note Poplar Hill in the CIP and hope that grant funding can be found.

“Personally, I’d like to see that in the CIP and the possibilities for grant monies reflected as we’ve done for other things,” she said.

Finally, the council touched on the ongoing saga of stormwater in the city as well as where Salisbury is in developing a state-mandated WIP.

“As an urban environment, it is very challenging for us to even do water quality,” Public Works Director Teresa Gardner said.

Currently, Public Works is planning to meet with the city administration this week to give them a first presentation on the possibility of establishing a stormwater utility, according to Gardner. Sometime after that initial presentation, she told the council that Public Works would update them as well.

As far as coming up with a feasible WIP, Gardner pointed out that data is still coming in, as are constant changes to state requirements. What needs to go into the WIP is “still such a moving target”, according to Gardner. She said she would keep the council in the loop in the months ahead while not confusing the issue with a city stormwater utility.