By Joyce Miles
Lockport Union-Sun & Journal
LOCKPORT — The Common Council may vote next week to authorize city borrowing of up to $8.6 million to finance facilities repairs and equipment purchases.
City Treasurer Michael White has asked the Council to authorize four bond resolutions, which essentially would give his office permission to “get the ball rolling” on borrowing for needed projects and purchases. In OK’ing bonding, the Council is not approving specific projects or purchases, he said Wednesday, it is merely authorizing him to get bond issues set up. The city, in fact, has 10 years from the time of bond authorization to borrow up to the OK’d amounts.
White’s bond proposals list a series of capital improvements and purchases that the city’s in-house capital improvements committee says are badly needed. Across departments, vehicles and other heavy equipment need replacing after years of “band aid” style maintenance, White said.
Replacement of the roofs of City Hall and the water and wastewater treatment plants is a $2.7 million endeavor and the capital improvement committee’s No. 1 priority, according to Mayor Michael Tucker.
Demolition of the municipal parking garage at Main and Pine streets, and replacement with a surface parking lot, is the least expensive way of handling the long-closed garage, Tucker said, and the estimate on that comes in at another $2.6 million.
The Council has two options for financing facility repairs and purchases: write the costs into the city budget and raise the money through property tax; or borrow it. The Council last year cut a number of capital lines out of the 2012 budget, to hold down the tax levy and rate, and with the intention of borrowing this year on White’s recommendation.
Thanks to the city’s bond rating, and the lingering economic downturn, now is an optimal time for the city to borrow money, White has said repeatedly. One-year loans, called Bond Anticipation Notices, can be taken at interest rates in the 1.3 percent to 1.5 percent range; the interest rate on long-term borrowing, by issue of tax-exempt bonds, currently is in the 2.15 percent to 2.35 percent range.
The city presently has less than $7 million in outstanding debt while its legal limit is $48 million.
Tucker urged the aldermen to vote for bond authorization.
“We haven’t spent a lot of money, and as (White) said, we’re starting to see the results of that,” he said.
Even after the treasurer has the OK to start the borrowing process, the Council would have to approve specific projects and purchases before bonds and BANs are issued. Proposals on the table include:
• A $2.67 million bond issue to cover the purchase of miscellaneous heavy equipment and vehicles, mostly for the water, sewer and highway departments; system repairs and new equipment for the sewer department; repair of an elevator and replacement of the telephone system at City Hall; replacement of the truck ramp at the fire house; and purchase of five new police vehicles.
Also under this issue, the city could borrow $53,000 to have “islands” constructed on Chestnut Street, between the Lockport Ice Arena & Sports Center and the parking lots behind Lockport Public Library and Lockport Family YMCA; $275,000 to buy and install “wayfinding” signage directing visitors around the city; $150,000 for new phones for the police-fire dispatch center and police-fire radio upgrades to comply with federal narrowbanding requirements; and $250,000 for improvements at Altro Park, Outwater Park and Community Pool.
Of the proposed police-fire communication upgrades, Tucker said, a decision whether to OK the spending will require the Council to decide, “once and for all,” whether public safety dispatching should stay in the city or be turned over to the county.
• A $2.7 million bond issue to cover roof and HVAC replacement at City Hall, roof replacement at the water filtration plant and roof and HVAC replacement at the wastewater treatment plant. These projects are ballparked at $900,000 each.
• A $2.6 million bond issue to cover demolition of the municipal parking garage and replacement with a surface parking lot.
Whether that project gets Council approval down the road is not certain. First Ward Alderman John Lombardi and 4th Ward Alderman Patrick Schrader both said they favor ramp rehabilitation over demolition — although Schrader conceded that likely would cost more than $2.6 million.
• A $600,000 bond to cover purchase of about 4,200 electronic water meters. Presently less than half of all meters in the city can be read by “drive-by scanning,” according to Schrader.