At its Dec. 12 meeting, the Town of North Hempstead Board unanimously adopted a General Fund Five Year Capital Plan and a Highway Fund Five Year Capital Plan. Both plans are comprehensive and articulate specific capital and highway projects requested by various town departments, with their related costs. The plans include the budget years from 2001 to 2005, in which the project will be proposed to the board for funding, and also have considered the periods of probable usefulness (PPU)assigned to each of the projects. The plan also indicates projects that will be included in the annual operating budget, as opposed to being bonded out. (These are usually those with a shorter PPU.)
However, Supervisor May Newburger cautions that even though the board adopted the five-year plans, when the individual projects come before the board, in their assigned budget year, board members may not approve the funding.
At a press conference held at Town Hall prior to the board meeting, Town Supervisor May Newburger and TONH Director of Operations Arthur Gianelli both stressed that the plans are consistent with the Ten Year Debt Management Plan (DMP) adopted by the board on Sept. 19 of this year. The basic principle behind the DMP is that more debt will be retired in each of the next 10 years than new debt will be issued. Therefore, the approximately $2 million per year estimated for the capital projects, and the approximately $3.7 million per year estimated for the highway work, fall within the debt thresholds established by the DMP. Both the Supervisor and Mr. Gianelli strongly support the capital/highway five year plans stating that by staying within certain limits, the plans realize debt reduction while allowing for maintenance and improvement of the town's infrastructure, and improving the environment (i.e. water quality). Some of the town's ADA (Americans With Disability Act) compliance is also addressed. "We receive millions and millions of dollars in requests," noted Mr. Gianelli, adding "The plans weigh the value of each project and fits them into the financial obligations of the town."
The supervisor commented that the DMP and proposed long term plans take into account the town's current fiscal situation, projected needs and the logical parameters the town could put on them yearly, looking towards an ultimate debt reduction. "I think it's kind of magical," she asserted.
However, while the town board members unanimously adopted both five year plans, some stressed that they were not approving the actual funding for the specific projects at this time. Nor at this time, as council persons O'Connor, Ferrara and Banks said, are they committing to perform the work on any of the projects proposed
Councilman O'Connor also noted that the town's administration would stand a better chance of having the projects approved for a bond resolution if they proposed them individually rather than lump them together when they're presented to the board for bond approval. This way, he explained, it gives board members a choice. It was pointed out, however that in packaging up the projects each year, economies of scale and increased bond counsel fees should be considered.
Councilman O'Connor added, along with Councilman Ferrara, that while they feel that the projects proposed are worthwhile, they can disagree with the administration and other board members on how to fund them, suggesting that the board consider including some capital projects in its annual operating budget, as opposed to incurring debt through a bond. "We slightly disagree on how aggressive the plan should be," But he also recognizes that "We can't fund everything from the surplus...the infrastructure will be collapsing around us."
"Debt is a real concern," added Mr. O'Connor, with his sentiments seconded by Mr. Ferrara.
Mr. Gianelli, however, in previous statements, acknowledged that a "pay-as-you-go- plan" to finance the cost of traditional capital projects has obvious advantages for reducing debt issuance, to the extent that projects are authorized when sufficient funds are available in the operating budgets to finance them through completion. But Mr. Gianelli says in a town with a budget of $70 million and fixed assets valued at over $165 million, this is not feasible.
Arguing in favor of bonding the projects versus funding them from the annual budget, Mr. Gianelli pointed out that the long-term projects that are bonded now will benefit taxpayers who move to town over the next 10 or 15 years. He noted, "The short-term projects can be included in annual operating budgets, thereby benefiting the town's current taxpayers."
The supervisor also mentioned that if the work isn't funded as assigned, the deterioration of the infrastructure, roads, etc., will "snowball," thereby making them more costly to repair.
A few sparks flew between the supervisor and Councilman O'Connor on the subject of the town debt. The supervisor took issue with some who appear to minimize the impact of the debt her administration inherited. "The town had to undertake capping the landfill, constructing the transfer station and solving the Morewood problems to the tune of $90 million over the last six years. This was a result of the prior administration's business with the incinerator, landfills and all of the solid waste problems," she stated. "We had to address these problems. It was quite a burden," she said emphatically. "None (of this debt) was optional."
Councilman O'Connor, while acknowledging that the DMP accurately pointed out the source of the debt, commented, "This (the debt) has been my responsibility for the last three years. I don't care what happened 10 or 15 years ago. Those to me are excuses. Now we have a situation we have to deal with tonight, and many other nights to come."
Among the many projects proposed over the next five years, a sampling includes: renovation of Manorhaven Park's kiddie pool (2001-$300,000); renovation of the main pool floor drains at Tully Park (2001-$50,000/ 2002-$450,000); LF mowers Harbor Links (2002 and 2004- $60,000 each year); Town 32 passenger buses(2001-$170,000 and 2003-2004- $85,000 each year). Additionally, curb and sidewalk costs ranging from $250,000 to $390,000 per year, and new and replacement equipment cost ($1 million in 2001, $450,000-in 2002-2003 and $500,000 in 2004-2005), are now slated to come before the town board for approval, according to the town's schedule.
Environmentally, feasibility studies and improvements to Roslyn Pond Park, Hempstead Harbor and Mill Pond will be considered starting in 2002 and going through 2005. In terms of road repair, from 36,000 to 50,000 linear road footage per year will be contemplated over the highway plan's five year period.
The annual projects articulated in the plans will be posted on the town's website: northhempstead.com. Copies of them are also available at Town Hall. Call Joe May at 869-7710 to arrange to pick one up.