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Merrimack Valley

December 12, 2012

Officials start budget 'wish list'

(Continued)

“Ours is going to be down-and-dirty,” Ianello told the committee. “It’ll be more data-driven than pretty looking.”

Still, the plan will allow the city to better coordinate the projects that get selected, helping to avoid miscommunications like the one last year when city planners designed a plan for burying utility lines at Campagnone Common without allowing for the fiber optic cables operated by the Information Technology Department.

The city’s last comprehensive annual capital plan was adopted in 2004 under former Mayor Michael Sullivan, which included $30 million to rebuild Veterans Memorial Stadium, restore the City Hall facade, purchase 26 police cruisers and make other repairs and purchases. The plans were abandoned in the following years when the economy sank and the money ran out, despite a mandate in the city charter that mayors present updated plans to the council annually.

Mayor Lantigua has not proposed a capital plan during his three years in office, focusing on the more immediate challenge of balancing his annual operating budgets. That challenge was multiplied by the fact that he had no budget director for the first two years of his term, until he hired Ianello 13 months ago.

A document Ianello distributed to the members of the capital committee yesterday suggested the challenge he faces extracting a capital plan from commissioners who have never been asked for one. Page 1 of the document is titled, “What is a capital improvement program?”

Ianello yesterday asked the members of his committee to return Jan. 2 with lists of their priorities, which he said should be limited to those costing at least $25,000 and that will have a life of at least five years. He also asked them to focus on projects that generate revenues or state and federal aid.

Because the projects are expensive – a new police headquarters to replace the cramped cinder block relic built in 1966 would cost at least $12 million - most of the projects’ remaining costs would be paid for by borrowing. That poses another challenge for a city already $116 million in debt and paying $15 million a year in interest.

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