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Martinsville, Virginia 24115
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Capital needs pile up
Budget plan includes $2.1M for city projects

Thursday, April 17, 2014

By MICKEY POWELL - Bulletin Staff Writer

Problems could arise for the city if capital projects are postponed for too long, according to Martinsville City Manager Leon Towarnicki.

For example, Towarnicki said, heavily driven city vehicles such as police cars must be replaced often. If they wear out before they are replaced, they have to be parked, and police officers and other city workers might not be able to respond to emergencies and requests for services as quickly, he said.

Vehicles can be repaired, but eventually the cost of repairs becomes more than the cost of a new vehicle, Towarnicki said.

The situation is much the same with computers in city offices because they are constantly being used. Computer breakdowns hinder employees in doing their jobs efficiently and effectively, according to Towarnicki.

Overall, he said, “it’s easier to replace (equipment) proactively ... instead of when you’re under the gun scrambling” to replace things when they wear out and cause reduced productivity or, perhaps, an emergency.

The city’s fiscal 2015 budget proposal includes a little more than $500,000 to replace vehicles and computers that are wearing out, Towarnicki said.

City department heads and constitutional officers requested $3,526,671 in capital expenses for the new fiscal year that will begin July 1.

However, the budget proposal funds only $2,105,147 in capital requests — roughly 60 percent of them. All of the funded requests are “high priority.”

The proposed budget puts “higher emphasis” on funding capital needs than spending plans prepared in recent years, Towarnicki said.

Capital project funding was reduced in the past due to financial constraints, so projects that need to be done are accumulating, he said.

Postponing projects further would increase capital expenses in future years, maybe to levels “beyond anything you could afford to do” then, he added.

Some needed projects no longer can be postponed, Towarnicki said.

One he mentioned is replacing the municipal building’s roof, which was installed in the early 1990s. During heavy rains, he said, leaks have occurred in courtrooms and offices throughout the building, and sometimes ceiling tiles absorbed so much moisture that they crumbled and fell onto furniture or floors below.

Leaks are “happening more and more frequently” as the roof nears the end of its “expected life,” Towarnicki said.

The proposed budget includes about $115,000 to replace the roof, he said.

It also includes $273,438 for sewer-related projects such as dismantling an old aeration basin and rehabilitating sewers and manholes to reduce inflow.

The unused basin needs to be dismantled for safety purposes and because its space could be used for other things, Towarnicki said.

During heavy rains, he said, “significantly more” wastewater flows into the treatment plant. If the plant cannot hold all of it, some wastewater could go into the Smith River and possibly cause environmental problems, he noted.

Funding for other capital projects in the budget proposal includes:

• $185,000 for expanding the Martinsville Information Network (MINet).

According to Towarnicki, the fiber-optic communications system has 65 customers and 26 either are waiting to be hooked to the system or evaluating whether to seek a connection.

• $428,510 for electricity-related projects, including replacements of lines and substation voltage regulators, as well as replacing street lights uptown and doing maintenance work on the city’s hydrodam.

• $371,000 to rebuild water treatment filters and replace water meters and other equipment items in the water system that are wearing out.

The majority of the utility-related projects are things that must be done periodically, Towarnicki said.

But “they really have to be done now” for the electric, water and sewer systems to continue to function properly, he said.

Also in the budget proposal is about:

• $172,000 to finish paying for recently purchased garbage collection and utility bucket trucks.

• $26,500 to reseal the uptown fire station’s roof. To maintain a warranty, sealant must be sprayed onto the roof every 10 years, Towarnicki said.

• $80,000 to replace a roof on a storage shed at the city’s work shop on Fishel Street and replace damaged pavement there.

• $17,500 as part of a local match to a federal grant being received for the city to install a network of tornado warning sirens citywide.

The federal grant is roughly $190,000, according to Bobby Phillips, the city’s emergency management coordinator.

The Virginia Department of Emergency Management likely will pay part of the local match, Phillips has said.

Martinsville City Council has scheduled budget work sessions from 6 to 9 p.m. next Wednesday and Thursday. Capital project funding is among items set to be discussed.


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