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Lebanon Taps ‘Rainy Day’ Funds

City Shifts Money For Storm Repairs

Lebanon — The City Council on Wednesday unanimously authorized more than $1.2 million in spending on storm recovery projects to repair infrastructure damaged in the July storms, drawing the money from different areas in order not to further drive up taxes.

Councilors praised the city’s finance director for coming up with a “creative” solution to find money to pay for the repairs without putting an added burden on the tax rate.

“These are rainy day funds, and it rained,” said Assistant Mayor Steve Wood. “So I’m going to support this.”

The money will be used to pay for both near-term and longer-term repairs, with $800,000 going toward the rebuilding of Slayton Hill Road and Dulac Street, about $300,000 going to a sewer project in West Lebanon and $100,000 going to other areas.

The Council authorized nearly $278,000 to be drawn from the city’s General Fund along with about $923,000 to be drawn from the following unspent capital project balances:

∎ South Main Street bridge project, which is still ongoing: $222,000. The project will have no balance remaining after the transfer.

∎ A citywide street rehabilitation project, which is in progress now: $200,000. The project will have a balance of about $91,000 remaining after the transfer.

∎ Hanover Street sewer replacement, which is nearing completion: $137,00. The project will have a balance of about $418,000 remaining after the transfer.

∎ Residual funding carried over from a previously completed project to be used for phase two of wastewater treatment facility improvements: about $126,000.

This particular funding source will have no balance remaining after the transfer.

∎ Miracle Mile pedestrian facilities, which has been completed for several years: about $108,000. The project will have no balance remaining after the transfer.

∎ Recreational area project at Westboro Yard, which has been on hold: $93,000. The project will have no remaining balance after the transfer.

∎ Bridge Street improvements, which will require less funding than initially anticipated: almost $37,000. The project will have a balance of $22,000 after the transfer.

Finance Director Len Jarvi said, however, that further down the line other needed repairs from the summer’s storm will impact the city’s tax rate. The funds targeted Wednesday night, he explained, represents the “low hanging fruits.”

The city is finalizing its cost estimates for different repair projects and is also waiting for word from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which is anticipated to help fund the storm-related repairs. Jarvi said that he will have a better idea of how much more money will be needed for additional repairs, but “that’s going to be at least a couple of months down the road.”

As for the project balances tapped for funding on Wednesday night, Jarvi said that he consulted with the city engineer before making his decisions. He said the transfers won’t affect projects still in progress, though city officials might have to revisit certain ones, such as the South Main Street bridge, for further appropriations in the future.

Jarvi said the “state has gone back to the drawing board a couple of times and has been discussing the scope of the (South Main Street bridge) project with the city over the last year or two, but it appeared as though there were sufficient funds to pull from there.”

The drawing down of funds reserved for building a recreational park at Westboro Yard, however, comes at a time when city officials are hoping to resolve differing visions over what to do with the rail yard in West Lebanon along the Connecticut River.

The city is talking with state officials and the owner of Rymes Propane and Oil, which operates a propane storage facility at Westboro Yard.

City officials and elected West Lebanon representatives have long hoped to build a park at the north end of the yard, and cleaned up about two acres of the site with federal and state funding about five years ago, but the project has been on hold in recent years due to the impending replacement of the Bridge Street bridge. A potential expansion of the propane storage facility has also been a topic of discussion among the various parties.

Jarvi said the Westboro fund was targeted because “the capital improvements fund is not a hope chest, and there’s other means of setting aside money for future expenditures if that’s what the city wants to do.

“Capital projects need to have a beginning and an end, and the Westboro project has languished since 2003 for various reasons, and various good reasons, but it’s time for it to lapse and it’s time for the City Council ... to revisit the subject of if expenditure of money should take place there,” he said.

Shelley Hadfield, a city consultant who is working on the Westboro project, said the money has been on hold to be used as match funds that would go toward developing the park at the north end of the yard. She said it will be at least “a couple of years” until the bridge is replaced and the transfer won’t have any impact on the progress that has taken place regarding the long-term future of the rail yard over the last few months.

“I don’t envy the city making these tough decisions but understand there may be more immediate needs in the wake of the July storm,” Hadfield said.

City Councilor Karen Liot Hill, who chairs the committee overseeing Westboro Yard, described authorizing the money to be drawn from the Westboro fund as “a little awkward” because the committee had not been consulted on the decision to include the funds.

She added, however, that the context of the decision should be kept in mind if the Westboro committee comes forward in the future seeking funds for the project there.

“We’re fortunate that right now, the work that we’re doing is really in dialogue and in collaboration with the state and different levels of government and also the private sector ... so we don’t have a specific need for these funds,” Liot Hill said. “But I just want to remind us and put it on the table that 10 years ago ... we did decide that it was worth it to put $100,000 toward Westboro.”

Before Wednesday night’s meeting, Liot Hill said that she does not anticipate the transfer slowing down efforts to create a park there. She said that it would require “major public-private partnerships” to achieve what the committee has envisioned for the project.

“We’re talking about millions, tens of millions of dollars that are going to be needed at the Westboro Yard for a full solution,” she said.

Ben Conarck can be reached at bconarck@vnews.com or 603-727-3213.