NEW MARKET – Town Manager Todd Walters presented some of biggest expenses facing the town over the next five years on Tuesday night, concluding with the question of how the town will pay for all of it.
Every year, localities produce a Capital Improvement Plan (CIP) that lays out major capital investments that must be made over the next five years. The plan is updated every year, and the document is flexible, Walters said. Just because an item appears in the plan, however, does not guarantee it will appear in the budget. Planning and budgeting are different tasks, Walters said.
Tuesday’s meeting gave Walters a chance to present his second CIP to Town Council — his first was when he had just more than two months on the job.
“Vehicles, equipment, I can tell you, from years of experience, are always a battle,” Walters told council members. “I believe you don’t replace stuff just to replace stuff. If you have something that works good and looks good, you use it.”
While most of Walters’ plan is flexible, one item he said council members will undoubtedly see on the next budget will be $3 million for a new water tower. The town’s existing tower is old and hasn’t been inspected in years, Walters said.
Along with the $3 million price tag for a new tower — including engineering, building, painting — another item council members will have to deal with is rehabbing the existing tower.
“Once we get our new tower up, we know our existing tower needs something,” Walters said. “But we don’t know what.”
Most of Walters’ projections for item costs could be made by assessing equivalent replacements such as new trucks for the Public Works Department or a light tower for the police. Fixing the existing tower could cost anywhere from $75,000 to $500,000, Walters said.
Besides taking care of the town’s water towers to ensure that residents have consistent water pressure, getting clean water takes maintenance, too. New filter membranes and gaskets are scheduled to be replaced over the next two years. Those components were just replaced, Walters said, but the recommended replacement schedule is every three years.
Councilman Tim Palmer said he would like to see funding for water treatment plant maintenance be moved from something the capital improvement plan addresses to a restricted line item in the town’s budget. The town, Palmer said, has restricted funds for everything from playground equipment to new vehicles, but clean water should be a priority.
“We don’t need a police cruiser to drink a glass of water,” he said. “When I went out there and looked at that [plant], that’s just as important as can be.”
“We even have the exercise and playground equipment broken down so much a year,” Palmer continued. “None of that’s as important as our water.”
Safe water and safe streets were major conversation points Tuesday evening. In coming years, council members said they want to see major sidewalk and engineering projects on East Lee Highway, John Sevier Road and Clicks Lane. Walters’ proposed CIP had the East Lee Highway project at the top of the list — a response to previous council member requests — but that may change following Tuesday’s meeting.
Estimates for adding a sidewalk to East Lee Highway will cost between $100,000 and $225,000, Walters said. Because there is already a curb and gutter system in place along the highway, the project would be easier to complete than either John Sevier or Clicks Lane.
Improving drainage along John Sevier Road has been on the Town Council’s agenda for years, Palmer said. Improving other parts of town would be nice, he said, but John Sevier gets used every day and its poor condition hurts the town.
Councilman Peter Hughes noted: “It may be the biggest engineering feat we have in town. That’s going to be a pretty significant project.”
The town will apply for two types of funding to complete whichever project it embarks on. A grant, available from the Virginia Department of Transportation, offers to pay for 80 percent of the project, with the town making up the final 20 percent. This grant, Walters said, will be more difficult to get than a state-funded 50/50 grant. There is a possibility to apply for funding from both grants to spread costs around, Walters said.
Councilwoman Peggy Harkness said looking at the plan was “sobering.”
“Having gone through several budget cycles, it’s apparent the things we need,” Harkness said. “You put things off, you put things off, and at some point, you can’t do it. At some point, you have to step up and figure out how you do it.”
Councilman Scott Wymer was not present for Tuesday’s work session.