Its budget time again for local government, and for the City of St. Augustine, with proposed general fund revenue of $19,102, 865 million for 2012-2013, and a projected outgo of $20,472, 417, the discussion at the commission’s budget workshops this past month have centered around ways to increase income earnings for the city, while doing some necessary – and unfortunately expensive infrastructure repairs.
This may involved some additional expense as well for taxpayers – including a possible hike in water bills.
The city’s 2012 – 2013 budget proposes the reopening of the Galimore pool in May of next year, and includes funding for a redesign of Orange Street that will include horse carriage depot and tour-vehicles only at the east end; a new roof for the leaking Lightner building; addressing brown water woes in the city; plus new recreation areas and improvements to city-owned buildings and properties which it is hoped will generate additional income in the years to come.
Pdf download for 2012-13 proposed budget meeting charts, explanations and supporting documents
Complaints of brown water running from aging water lines that contain sediment build-up and rust is also generating complaints by residents, say city staff, and members of the commission are also feeling the heat.
“I must be on a brown water mailing list,” said Commissioner Bill Leary commented during last Thursday’s budget workshop. “By far, the most complaints emailed to me have been about brown water.
Leary said the point was driven home for him when he got a call from his wife – who – in the midst of washing some white linens – had the water running brown from the pipes.
Public Works Director Martha Graham said causes of the muddy, rust-tinged flow from taps (particularly in the downtown) include main breaks, pressure fluctuation and the age of the pipes themselves. Ongoing actions include automatic and spot flushing, chemical corrosion studies and – ultimately – water main replacements for the approximately 65 miles of aging metal lines, but this will be a total cost of $16.6 million.
Graham said the city had spent over $1 million replacing 3.73 miles of line since 2009, and is proposing another $2 million this year to replace 3.39 miles – but this will require at least a 1.7 percent utility rate increase for residents, and will include utility bond restructuring.
City Comptroller Mark Litzinger also explained that if a current utility bond would be extended for the next two years, it could produce an estimated $4 to $5 million for the city’s Brown Water Program. More favorable bond rates would save $900,000 per year however.
The bond could be extended from 2021 to 2023, which Litzinger said would allow the city’s entire $22 million in utility bonds to be paid-off by 2023 – without the need for a rate increase for the debt service. Litzinger said then, the entire $4 to $5 million would be directed to the water line replacement program.
Meanwhile, Graham said that “unidirectional flushing” of lines would be a stopgap measure to provide some relief for residents tired are seeing brown run from their pipes.
The process described by Graham is basically a flushing out of sediment-filled lines by forcing clean water at a high velocity through the lines, which would help to remove the build-up from the pipes and lines.
Among other immediate issues City Manager John Regan are critical to address with funding this year include a proposed $1 million to seal the flat roof of the historic Lightner Building. Build in 1888 by Henry Flagler as the Alcazar Hotel, the nationally recognized architectural gem now houses the offices of City Hall and the National Guard as well as courtyard galleries, shops, and the Lightner Museum.
Documenting splendors of the gilded age and lauded as the “Smithsonian of the South”, the museum gives a glimpse into America’s Gilded Age with exhibits that range from costumes and furnishings of the Alcazar time period, to mechanical musical instruments, rare displays of Victorian art glass and the stained glass work of Louis Comfort Tiffany.
Meanwhile, staff has now resorted to buckets to collect water leaking in and ruining the walls and notably fine plaster work of the period.
While the museum is managed by a board of Trustees, the city is responsible for exterior maintenance for the building, Regan said.
Virtual tour of the Lightner Museum
Regan says city staff will also seek guidance on economic development of the city’s assets, which it is hoped will include more joint and private business partnerships to turn losing city holdings like the Spanish Quarter Museum, Galimore Center in Lincolnville, Bayfront mini golf course and the Visitor Information Center into – if not income-generating venues – then at least not liabilities.
In a controversial move, commissioners recently approved the use of $1.4 million from reserves to convert the Visitor Center into an exhibit hall that recently displayed a show of St. Augustine archeological artifacts, but will also bring more exhibits are global interest such as a January showing of rare Pablo Picasso works.
Also see pingroof.com article: VIC, Picasso and ‘let’s don’t thank heaven for 7-11’
Meanwhile, it was also announced that the long-anticipated reopening of the Galimore Center Pool could happen next May with some additional funding help from the Jacksonville Jaguars in honor of the former pro-football player Willie C. Galimore, for which the complex is named.
General Services Director Jim Piggott said of the $400,000 the county was ordered to pay when it discontinued management of the center and pool last year, $40,000 had been drawn for operations of the center, but only $28,000 had been used, while programs brought the center only $15,000 in income. Operational costs of the pool are a projected $279,000 annually.
According to Piggott, the YMCA is also considering a proposal to help operate the pool, and the addition of a catering kitchen and proposed cosmetic improvements to attract more events and weddings could bring some additional income to offset costs of operation.
In addition to anticipated revenue generation from events at the Visitor Center exhibit hall, Riberia Point and the former North City Railroad Station are potential revenue producers, and the city is proposing funding an estimated $1.2 to $1.8 million to restore the old railroad building for potential revenue-producing uses such as wedding receptions.
Regan said the San Sebastian Inland Harbor project could be back on the front burner as well as funding to create recreation space at the site of a former city landfill at the south end of Riberia Street. Portions of the former landfill were removed and are now filled and sealed with clean topsoil.
The site could now offer opportunity for expanded recreation and/or revenue generation, Regan said.
Meanwhile, the commission at their last meeting has also decided in a 3-2 vote to open up the bayfront mini golf course currently operated with a lease agreement with the city by Ripley Tours to a bidding process.
Formerly, the commission had agreed to a “request for bids” and to negotiation with winning bidder, which was Ripley, and for a lease extension starting at $42,176 a year. This was nearly twice the current $22,500 annual lease and $10,000 more than rival bidder Historic Tours.
Now, city staff has been directed to prepare an outline of criteria for commission review at their next regular meeting on August 27. Effectively, this will be an” Invitation to Negotiate”, Regan explained, which is the process which was used to select Jim Croce, Inc. as the city and University of Florida’s new private partner for the former Colonial Spanish Quarter.
In a nutshell, the way former Mayor George Gardner described the proposed budget in his popular newsletter, The Gardner Report (subscribe), there’s “something old, something new, something borrowed,” etc. for 2012-13
Expounds Gardner, “Old – as in repairs to the Lightner Building, new – as in the new Riberia Point, and borrowed – as in drawing project funds from city reserves (which has at least one commissioner blue).”
The city is also planning to go forward with plans to redesign the Orange Street – Castillo Drive Intersection more “pedestrian friendly.”
The project for the intersection, located near the city gates and used as a crossing from the old city downtown to the fort has been awarded funding of $753,000 through the Paul S. Sarbanes Transit in Parks Program, and will include closing the eastbound lane of Orange to all traffic except sightseeing vehicles; developing a horse carriage stand, and completing another portion of the Cubo line, which followed the walls of the ancient city.
Planning and Building director Mark Knight said a proposed signalized crossing for pedestrians would have to await more funding if these goals were met, but commissioners quickly moved the crosswalk – estimated at $250,000 – to the top of the priority list.
The dangerous crossing on the curve of A1A/San Marco to the fort from Orange has seen several accidents in recent years, including a one fatality of a tourist.
See a slideshow of the proposed Orange Street and fort crossing improvement project