With projects ranging from an estimated $8.7 million for the proposed cultural arts center to an estimated $20,000 for a proposed stream crossing in Runnymede Park, the Town Council is considering the Capital Improvement Program (CIP) for the budget years 2003-04 through beyond 2007-08.
"I have some concerns about some of the priorities as ranked by staff," said Herndon mayor Carol Bruce regarding the CIP. She did not want to discuss specific projects following the Tuesday, May 14 public hearing that had been held without a work session because town elections were held on Tuesday, May 7. Another public hearing is scheduled for Tuesday, May 28 and the public is invited to comment on the CIP.
AN ESTIMATED $41.2 million is slated to be spent on various projects ranging from downtown street improvements, storm drainage improvements, streetlights, a new public safety center, expansion of the Herndon Community Center, vehicles and equipment and the future cultural arts center during FY-04 through FY-08, according to the report produced by town staff.
The $41.2 million figure includes the $7.204 million earmarked for FY-03 that garnered approval during the FY-03 budgetary process, said Herndon finance director Mary C. Kemp. Of that amount, $229,000 is for the replacement of town vehicles, $725,000 is for the nature center at Runnymede Park, $1.2 million for the cultural arts center and $4.1 million for the future public safety center.
Of the 44 projects on the CIP, 10 projects call for $30.544 million, or 74.1 percent of the $41.2 million slated for the next six years. Those figures have raised some eyebrows on the council.
"Staff is addressing the needs, but I question the priorities," said Councilman Harlon Reece. "We need for the streetscape improvements to be moved up — Station Street improvements, downtown improvements — those are beneficial to the overall community. Push back the expansion of the community center," he said.
An estimated $3.6 million is called for in order to complete Phase IV of the Herndon Community Center expansion project.
"The community center expansion should be pushed back. Sufficient parking is not available and I’m not willing to trade a soccer field for a parking lot," said Councilman Dennis Husch. "Staff has not made a compelling case. I don’t think the Ferndale facility can grow any further. We need to look at the fees. Perhaps raise out of town fees to discourage their use to allow town residents a chance to use the facility," he said.
"We should go ahead with the nature facility at Runnymede," said Husch of the project that has already been accounted for with FY-03 funds. "In the grand scheme, staff’s priorities are consistent with town needs, with some minor adjustments," he said, before launching into a concern about the future cultural arts center.
Husch’s concern was two-fold. One, that other projects would need to be put on the town’s back burner in order to accommodate the arts center. The other concern is the overall cost of the arts center project and the approval of the town’s residents to pay for such an undertaking.
Staff indicated at last Tuesday night’s public hearing that in order to accommodate what is perceived to be the big three projects — the public safety center, the cultural arts center and the community center expansion, certain projects would need to be pushed back to the out years of the CIP. Such projects include the triangle street improvements (Elden, Monroe and Van Buren), the Town Hall Square improvements, the downtown streets improvements, the Park and Monroe intersection improvements, work at Haley Smith Park and the Herndon Parkway-Van Buren intersection improvements, said Kemp.
ADDITIONAL CUTS may have to be made further down the road, as the projected recurring expenses is expected to outdistance projected recurring revenues, leaving the CIP under funded in 2007 and 2008. "There is a need to find additional funding or make cuts," said Kemp. The council will be using part of the undesignated fund balance, currently at $7.4 million, for some projects. "That’s quite a bit of money for a town the size of Herndon. It’s good to have many sources to fund the CIP so as not to be reliant on few sources and a planned use is completely appropriate," she said, noting that the large undesignated fund balance is the result of "contributions by residents in the form of taxes not needed by the town. By 2008 the town can no longer use the undesignated fund balance — $2.8 million will remain as a base," said Kemp. The CIP would be funded via recurring revenues, bond issues, grants from state and federal sources and one time items such as the sale of land, she said.
"Before the town commits to a bond for the cultural arts facility we need to have a referendum. We not only asking support from voters to commit to the debt, but an over-operating expense beyond the building and opening the doors. This goes beyond bricks and mortar," said Husch. "The voters ought to have a say and the way to do that is with a referendum. It gives both the pros and cons a chance to make their case. It’s the appropriate thing to do. I will not support a bond issue for the cultural arts center at that level of spending without getting a mandate from the people. Without public approval, it’s a disservice to the people," he said.
The public hearing begins at 7:30 p.m. on Tuesday, May 28 at the Town Council Chambers located at 765 Lynn Street.