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By BRAD ROLLINS
Staff Reporter

With the city’s capital improvement needs growing faster than they are getting met, the city council in a workshop on Tuesday approved changes to the process through which big-ticket projects are prioritized and funded.

In the second part of the workshop, the council instructed city staff to include funding for the first phase of Farm-to-Market Road 110 but discussed a moratorium on adding other new expenditures to the list until a backlog of pending projects is eased.

The city’s three engineers are currently juggling 72 projects totaling $106 million either in the design, bidding or construction phase.

“We are very limited in our capacity to take on new projects,” said Sabas Avila, the interim engineering and environment department director. “Does that mean if the city council comes up with a priority project that it absolutely can’t be done? No. We will find a way to do it but it may come with some consequences, it may require that something else be pushed back or eliminated.”

Even many of the projects underway are only partially funded, however, and between streets, utilities and facilities projects, literally hundreds more are waiting in the cue but may never make it to fruition. The 10-year program grew by nearly $100 million this budget cycle alone, Mayor Susan Narvaiz said, with many of the new additions pushing their way to the top ahead of long-time needs, especially in older areas of town.

“It gets to a point where it’s not making sense. We have projects that have bee on the books for a long time not getting done and these little pet projects coming up first. Maybe the process was a good process at the time but it isn’t working anymore,” Narvaiz said.

And when projects do come up for funding, they’re often planned using years-old, obsolete cost estimates that require relative last-minute scrambling to fully fund works. For example, the city council on several occasions had to raid other projects to complete the Staples Road sidewalk project.

Spearheaded by assistant city manager Laurie Anderson, city staff developed a new model for the capital improvement program that puts more emphasis on master planning and removing the program from the annual budget process where many of the new costs are added in year-to-year.

Giving more weight to “programmatic” over “public” projects will help ensure that fundamental needs, especially those without a lobby, are more insulated from political whims, officials said. But city council members and their appointees will still have to restrain themselves to make the system work better.

“Philosophically, you have to be comfortable with moving a way from a ‘wishlist’ where you’re only looking one year out on funding and comfortable relying more on master planning,” Anderson said.

At one point in Tuesday’s meeting, council member Chris Jones was saying how hard it is for him to turn away citizens with legitimate neighborhood needs.

“You’re just going to have to learn how to say ‘no'” the mayor said, maybe half-jokingly.

RELATED IN NEWSTREAMZ

»The List: Pending public works projects 01/31/08

»With project underway, Staples Road is where
the sidewalk begins for Wallace Addition
01/16/08

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Capital Improvement Program process reform

PowerPoint presentation from Jan. 29 city council workshop

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0 thoughts on “With needs piling up, council looks at ways to square 'wish list' with reality

  1. Why was FM110 conveniently added as an “earmark” to this already overladen package of goods and services considered outdated and illegitimate? Does the Mayor have a hard time saying “no” as well? The Mayor claims that “new” projects are pushing their way ahead of “older areas of our city.” Is this an abandonment of our inner city? Learning to have to say “no” half jokingly is on the other side half jokingly saying “yes” to pet projects.

  2. Scott — I know there will probably be a vigorous discussion about this — as there should be with a project of this size. It comes down to accessing FM 110’s importance in proportion to its cost. For starters though I’ll point out that FM 110 has been around in one variation or the other for decades. This one has been on the books since at least 2002 when it was part of a countywide bond package (that passed). It was not in the city’s CIP because the county would have paid for it had the 2007 package passed but it is central to the transportation masterplan.

    Something that was discussed at the meeting that I did not mention in my article: As I understand it, part of newly revised process includes identifying cuts when projects are added. It will be interesting to see if that policy will start with FM 110.

  3. Brad, thanks for the clarification and your point regarding the county funding of this roadway under the failed bond proposal.

  4. Scott- I agree with your “half jokingly saying yes to pet projects” when it come to FM 110- or convenitenly called “Loop 110” when in reality it is not the whole loop but one-fifth and there is not a dollar amount with it. When one looks at the way certain landowners have been receiving money from the city for projects, one might start to ask who actually is funding pet projects.

    Brad- though something has been on the books for decades does not mean that it is still viable. The city should take a step back and really look at where a loop is needed and not wanted.

    We- all of San Marcos- need to look at where we want growth and how- redevelopment in our downtown, not developing on the recharge zone, etc. While one would hope the visioning sessions would direct this, separating the community into “special focus groups” only divides our community and does not help us sort out some of our disagreements into solutions that benefit everyone, but esp the community and our future for a prosperous and viable one.

    AND- it is unfortunate that the city and county cannot work together. This constant bickering does not help our city or county. Sometimes I feel like I am watching an elementary playground scene: different groups of people belittling and degrading the others. As a friend consistantly tells me, “It is time to put our big girl and big boy underpants on and get things sorted out!”

  5. Pingback: City sells $73 million in bonds for public works : Newstreamz

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