Portsmouth tackles fix-it list
PORTSMOUTH — The town has a long fix-it list to tackle over the next five years, but septic system repairs, the demolition of a former school and road paving are getting most of the attention.
The town’s five-year Capital Improvement Plan (CIP) got its first public airing Monday night before the Town Council. Among the “short list” items — totaling about $1.8 million — are a re-shingling job for the fire station, a new basin cleaner for public works, playground improvements and renovations to buildings at Glen Park.
A bigger priority for the town, however, is a new loan program to help qualified residents pay for upgrades to their septic systems — mandated by the state — that would cost an estimated $3 million in borrowed funds this year, plus another $1 million in each of the following three years.
The loan program is the core of the town’s recently approved Wastewater Management Plan, which answers the state Department of Environmental Management’s (DEM) mandate that the town come up with a plan to repair failing septic systems in Island Park, Portsmouth Park and elsewhere.
“Many of these citizens are on a fixed or limited income,” explained Town Administrator John Klimm. He said although the program hasn’t been developed yet, the “clock is ticking” for homeowners with failing septic systems to get the needed repairs done to satisfy DEM.
Another high-priority project is $500,000 for the demolition of the former Elmhurst Elementary School building, which closed in 2010.
Mr. Klimm told the council that neither the loan program or the demolition project is included in next year’s budget and would add about another $450,000 in debt service spending.
“We either get that from eliminating the rest of the CIP,” make $450,000 in cuts to the operating budget, or meet the debt service by adding the same amount to the spending plan, he said.
Council member David Gleason said he supported both items. “They both belong in the budget package,” he said, adding that the loan program is essential to convince DEM that the town has a solid plan to deal with the septic issues.
As for the Elmhurst demolition project, Mr. Gleason said the council shouldn’t forget about the nonprofit Aquidneck Land Trust’s offer of more than $1 million toward the project in return for a perpetual conservation easement which would include a public waterfront park. That money could be included in the budget to offset costs to the town, he said.
Road paving in budget
One of the CIP “short list” items that’s already incorporated in Mr. Kilmm’s proposed budget is $1 million for road paving in 2014, a $500,000 increase over the amount set aside in this year’s budget. The CIP also proposes spending the same amount in each subsequent year through 2018.
Town officials say it will be cheaper in the long run to make the needed repairs to town roads now, rather than replace them in the future. David Kehew, director of Public Works, said in a nine-year stretch leading up to last year, the town was spending an average of only $156,000 annually on its roads, which wasn’t enough for major improvements.
“It’s very well-received,” Mr. Kehew said of DPW’s recent emphasis on paving, adding that improving the roads was a hot item in the town-wide survey that was recently carried out to gauge public opinion on municipal services and general quality of life.
The CIP also proposes borrowing $254,000 to replace the heating, ventilation and cooling system at Town Hall. The system dates back to the ’90s, according to Mr. Kehew, who said he’s spent an “inordinate” amount of time in the building answer service calls.
His own department is requesting a new basin cleaner to replace the current 1984 model which has also been used as a sander and plow, but is no longer in good working condition. The 2012 vehicle, which would cost about $185,000, is needed to shore up DPW’s current fleet, he said.
"Now we have seven sanders and they're getting older. This would bring us to eight sanders,” said Mr. Kehew. “There's never been a storm where a piece of equipment doesn't go down."
If it came down between the improvements to Town Hall or the basin cleaner, however, Mr. Kehew said his department could go another year with the current vehicle.
Weaver Cove boat ramp
The public boat ramp at Weaver Cove, off Burma Road, would also undergo improvements under the CIP. The plan calls for borrowing $66,000 in next year’s budget and another $200,000 the following year.
"It's fallen into disrepair,” said Mr. Kehew, noting that although the piers are in good shape, the walkway needs to be replace. The ramp also needs a breakwater to divert water from a stream and the area needs to be dredged, he said, adding that it’s possible the state will take care of the dredging.
Mr. Kehew also spoke on improvements needed to the town’s playgrounds, Glen Park riding rink and buildings, the transfer station building and Sandy Point Beach bathhouse.
Fire Chief Michael Cranson spoke to two CIP items for the Fire Department. One was $100,000 to re-shingle the department headquarter’s exterior. “The fire station is 43 years old. The shingles are literally falling off the building,” said Chief Cranson.
The other item would be to install a microwave communications system at a cost of $85,000. The department leases telephone lines for its five receiver sites around town, but Verizon will not service them after 2014, said Chief Cranson, adding that microwave transmission is more reliable anyway.
Here's a summary of some of the items on Portsmouth's fix-it list:
Wastewater management loans: $3 million would be borrowed in fiscal year 2014 to help homeowners with funding to repair or replace their failing septic systems. Another $1 million would be borrowed in each subsequent year through 2017.
Road paving: $1 million in 2014 (already included in budget) and each subsequent year through 2018, to re-surface town-maintained roads.
Town Hall: $254,000 borrowed to replace the building's outdated heating, ventilation and cooling system.
Fire station: $100,000 borrowed to re-shingle the building's exterior.
Glen Park: $60,310 borrowed in 2014 to repair the riding rink and buildings on the town-owned property.
Sandy Point Beach bathhouse: $13,000 borrowed to fix the roof and trim.