Sunday, September 20, 2015

West on CIP Requests: Bond Only $3 Million Annually

The purse strings for big-ticket city necessities are tight, so much so that Finance Director Ron West has advised bonding no more than $3.5 million annually for capital improvements.

Planning Board members pored over West's color-coded charts of capital requests Thursday night. Planning Director Bill Nierstedt said West's recommendation was for bonding no more than $2 million in general requests and $1.5 million for roads. Capital improvements and acquisitions can preferably be funded with grants

Ideally, the board reviews and approves capital improvement requests and refers a six-year capital improvement program to the governing body for action. However, in recent years, the process has faltered. According to then-Chairman Ken Robertson in August 2013, there were no capital expenditures from 2009 through 2012, and to avoid a huge expenditure and give the City Council some breathing room, the board wanted to "zero out" 2014. Earlier that year, the former administration proposed issuing $8 million in bonds to catch up, but some council members questioned the amount. Plaintalker also called for an overall accounting of bonding and debt in 2013.

Two capital requests were reviewed Thursday. The Plainfield Public Library is seeking $500,000 to repair the deteriorating steps on the Park Avenue side. Library Director Mary Ellen Rogan said the project was approved but not bonded, so it was being put forward again. Peter Rajcevic, the library's chief technology officer, said the steps are one phase of exterior repairs and are a safety issue. The steps on that side have not been touched since the library was built in 1968, except to have some planters removed.

Because the plans are now a year and a half old, the library is having an architect review estimated costs. Another consideration is that the building extends 10 feet under the steps, essentially forming the roof of lower-level rooms.

Robertson asked whether costs could be broken up over two years. Rogan mentioned $77,000 that the library paid for another project, and asked whether it could be repaid and applied to the proposed step repairs.

Chairman Ron Scott Bey said one reason for suggesting the two-year span was that the project would use up one-quarter of the recommended $2 million. The discussion ended with a promise to look into it, and also the possibility of getting back the $77,000.

Next, Captain Steven Soltys of the Police Division presented information on capital projects, some of which are underway. One large expected expense is an engineering study for $2.4 million. Soltys said there are 13 different systems in the police building that need to be studied. There are five major rooftop installations, he said. As an example of needed upgrades, he said the jail has heat, but no air conditioning. Also ductwork with interior insulation needs to be replaced, as it cannot be cleaned.

Soltys also mentioned the need to replace patrol cars with Explorers, noting Ford now makes a specialized police vehicle that is becoming the standard. The vehicle cost is about $31,000, rising to $54,000 when police equipment is added.

In addition, the impending use of body cameras will create the need for video storage equipment. (I did not hear any promises from the board on these requests.)

The Fire Division did not present a capital request as expected Thursday.

Commentary: Hearing about just these two aspects of capital improvement plans made me wonder how things will work out in light of the proposed outsourcing of the Planning Division. If some city divisions lack the internal skills to put together capital improvement requests, how will the interface with an outside planning firm work? At what juncture will the outsourced entity meet with the Planning Board and/or the governing body regarding the CIP? Just wondering.


Disclosure: My son works part-time at the Plainfield Public Library.


  1. No capital improvement expenditures from 2009 to 2013? I wonder who was mayor then?

  2. The police department should learn to make do like the taxpayers in Plainfield who pay their bills. Explorers are not a necessity, they are an unnecessary upgrade. My father used to say, "If you want it, you can pay for it." That principle could be applied here. If the police want Explorers, let them pay for it out of salary concessions. Then we can see how important it is to them.

    I, also, hope the system repairs at the police station are reviewed. Some of those items may be from a wish list. When I see homeowners replacing duct work that "can't be cleaned," then maybe the police can have their wish. They shouldn't get what the homeowners make do without. That should be another principle.