The Kent County Finance Committee will take its first look this week at the list of capital improvement projects for the next fiscal year, and it probably won’t come close to resembling the list they saw a few weeks ago.
That first list contained 29 departmental requests for projects in 2011 at a cost of $6.4 million, with $6.1 million of that amount to come from the county’s general fund. But the operating budget can’t cover all the requests, so the list has to be shrunk.
That job went to a Capital Improvements Project Review Team comprised of county officials from various departments and County Administrator and Controller Daryl Delabbio. The review team gave Delabbio its recommendations last week; he will pass the list on to the Finance Committee this week along with his suggestions.
“At the next meeting, at the end of this month, you will receive a recommended list,” said Delabbio at the previous committee meeting held two weeks ago.
Although Delabbio said the two key selection criteria would be health and safety, the amount of cash available in the general fund for the projects will play a vital role in the whittling process.
Every year the county dedicates a portion of its operating millage to the Capital Improvements Project list. For years, the county set aside 0.20 mills for that purpose, which gave the CIP budget around $3.5 million. But for this year’s budget only 0.15 mills was authorized, and that figure raised roughly $2.8 million for maintenance and improvements. The amount could be even lower next year.
Earlier this month, commissioners voted to drop the CIP set-aside from 0.15 mills to 0.10 mills in order to keep more revenue in the general fund, which is facing a $9.5 million shortfall. Only having 0.10 mills available means the CIP budget is expected to get $1.8 million at most, and perhaps as little as $1.5 million.
When commissioners made that change in the set-aside, they stipulated that the lower number would only be chosen if it was seen as necessary to keep revenue in the general fund.
“I was under the assumption that I could go no lower than 0.10 mills and no higher than 0.15 mills,” said Delabbio to the committee.
Regardless of which number it turns out to be — $2.8 million or $1.8 million — both figures are far from the $6.1 million needed to fill all the CIP requests.
There is one request that must be filled. It is a debt service payment of almost $1.2 million for the bonds that were sold two years ago to make improvements at the county’s Fuller Avenue Campus. Keeping that commitment will reduce the money available from general fund to $1.6 million or $600,000, depending on which millage figure is set aside, for the other CIP projects that are selected. The CIP fund balance was about $3.5 million at the start of this fiscal year.
Assistant County Administrator Mary Swanson said she would see if federal stimulus dollars were still available that the county could tap for improvement projects. But she wasn’t optimistic.
“Unless there were additional stimulus dollars approved, we’re out of stimulus money,” said Swanson.
Commissioner Dean Agee, who chairs the Finance Committee, said he was impressed with the relative lack of urgency that departmental managers attached to their requests. He said that told him that the county’s infrastructure has been greatly improved since he was first elected to the county board a decade ago. Agee said 10 years ago the county’s infrastructure was “horrific.”
Commissioner Art Tanis praised the restraint that department heads showed in a tough economic time by making only 29 requests for the next CIP budget. “If they listed everything that they need,” he said, “the list would probably have 147 projects.”
The need exceeds the cash available
Seven departments within Kent County have made 29 capital improvement requests. If all were filled, the cost to the county’s general fund for next year would top $6.1 million. Currently, that budget is facing a deficit of $9.5 million for 2011; $7.5 million in cost reductions are expected to be made this year for the operating budget next year.
The general fund is projected to have from $1.8 million to $2.8 million available next year for capital improvements. The CIP budget has a fund balance of $3.5 million.
John Ball Zoo
Bureau of Equalization
Source: Kent County Fiscal Services Department, June 2010