JAMESTOWN – Two of the three candidates for mayor of Jamestown say they support a recently unveiled proposal to borrow up to $12.9 million to help pay for a variety of capital investment projects in the city.
On Monday Jamestown mayor Sam Teresi and other city officials presented the Smart City Capital Investment Program – a $13.9 million plan that involves addressing needs with city buildings including City Hall and the Wastewater Treatment Plant in the Town of Poland; infrastructure like water mains, sewer mains, and the city storm water system; and equipment and vehicles in Jamestown Fire Department and the Department of Public Works.
The plan primarily focuses on borrowing $12.9 million, with another $1 million coming from the State Financial Restructuring Board.
All three candidates for the 2019 mayoral election where in attendance for the presentation, and two of them say that at first review, it’s something they would support.
“I really do believe that these are investments that are absolutely necessary for the infrastructure of our city. I’m glad to see that and I think that we need these things going forward,” Democratic Candidate Eddie Sundquist told WRFA earlier this week. “But, more importantly as the next mayor, I’m excited to make sure that we have even more investments in our city. Especially those that utilize technology to help us manage the city even better.
Republican Candidate David Wilfong also told us the only thing he would want to take a closer look at is a proposal to use up to $4 million to pay for the construction of a new central garage for the Department of Public Works.
“As you start taking a look at the list, when we start talking about sanitary lines, water main improvements and structural improvements to the city, these are things that as a city government most likely we have got to do. There is no question about that,” Wilfong said. “The only thing I saw That I think we could maybe reach out to other municipalities is the new central maintenance facility. I wonder if there might be an opportunity to look at some shared services there.”
Not all mayoral candidates are in immediate support of the proposal. Libertarian candidate and current city councilman at large Andy Liuzzo said he wants to take a closer look at the plan, but right now he is reluctant to support a plan that would put a financially struggling city into further debt.
“We don’t have any money. We’re not generating any money. And we have contracts coming up. And we’re going to take on debt, roughly $13 million, for the next 25 to 30 years. So we’re going to be burdening our children and grandchildren with debt that maybe we don’t have to do right now,” Liuzzo said.
According to Mayor Teresi, the investment program could result in a net savings for the city of as much as $450,000 in its annual operating budget, with another $150,000 being saved in the Jamestown Board of Public Utilities budget. Liuzzo said he doesn’t think the savings will be that significant.
“It’s spread out over 20 or 25 years. So by the time you buy the equipment this time and you get the loan paid off 20 to 25 years from now, aren’t we looking at new equipment? Aren’t we looking at trying to replace what’s 20 years old today? I think we need a more thorough look at what we are saving and what we are not saving,” Liuzzo said.
Part of the proposal not only involves saving money, but also calls for some revenue being generated by renting or leasing out equipment and even services, such as repairs in the new central garaged. Wilfong said he’s not sold on the revenue side of the plan, but does support the areas that show a savings – regardless of the size.
“It’s spread out over 20 or 25 years. So by the time you buy the equipment this time and you get the loan paid off 20 to 25 years from now, aren’t we looking at new equipment? Aren’t we looking at trying to replace what’s 20 years old today? I think we need a more thorough look at what we are saving and what we are not saving.
Sundquist said that he would need to further look into the aspects of the savings numbers to know for sure if they are realistic or not, but also said that more important than even the savings is improving safety and service to city residents, and that’s something that could be accomplished through the proposed program.
“I think having any type of savings is incredibly important, especially when we look at the cost of some of these items we are trying to do. But more importantly, I think the investments that are trying to be done are absolutely necessary at this point. So I understand the savings. That is absolutely fantastic for the residents of the city, but things like replacing a fire truck is incredibly important to the safety of everyone here,” Sundquist said.
The Smart City Capital Investment Program will be reviewed and finalized in the coming weeks by the Board of Public Utilities and City Council and the approval to set out to borrow as much as $12.9 million could come before the council by its Sept. 30 voting session.
According to an audit of the 2018 city budget, Jamestown is at its constitutional taxing limit, meaning it couldn’t raise taxes any higher even if it wanted to. However, the city is only at 29% of its constitutional borrowing limit, meaning there is room for the city to take on more debt. The city currently owes about $14.27 million in debt, with the last of that debt scheduled to be paid off in 2035.