EAST GREENWICH—Town manager Andy Nota presented a 99-page summary of the proposed capital improvements plan for the period ranging from fiscal years 2021-2026 at a special meeting of the town council Thursday. The six-year program is updated annually and its purpose is to provide a fluid framework for the town to further develop its goals within, and to provide a roadmap to achieving the town’s current fiscal goals.
“What we have is a preliminary capital improvement plan. There are a couple of things I’d like to get out in front of though,” Nota said. “Normally at this time of year, we would also have school information regarding the proposed capital program. Due to some of the transition that’s going on in the school administration right now, that is going to come to us a little later, which is fine.”
Importantly for the editing process of the capital improvement plan, the town currently owes over $60 million in debt, of which about $37 million is from school debt and $18 million is from wastewater debt. As such, a key feature of the plan is transitioning more firmly into a pay-as-you-go model to effectively lower the town’s debt over time. That debt also means that the council must be ready to resist the urge to buy whatever it feels the town needs, and is likely to have an impact on how it receives the proposed school budget later on, which is already shaping up to be notably more expensive than last year.
In all, the capital improvement plan includes project descriptions, costs and potential sources of funding that the town might pursue. Designed as it is to guide the town through the next six years, the first year of the program is the capital budget which is incorporated into the upcoming fiscal year operating budget, while the subsequent five years reflect a fluid vision of planned activity subject to budget approval, and more likely to change due to unforeseen circumstances and the uncertainties of funding.
Nota hopes that the effort to package the capital improvement plan in a more visible and accessible manner will help residents better understand how the town is managing itself and increase transparency. To this end, the working capital improvement plan has been made available on the town’s website, allowing locals to see what changes have been recommended by the individual town departments under the guidance of their directors, managers and supervisors, and better increase visibility of new projects and funding streams.
“This is just the beginning,” Nota said. “You can open up this document and have a solid plan for the next six years. This is going to be a reference document for the community to access online.”
“We’re going to start to include information not only on population and demographics, but also on employment and job growth–and we’re going to try to include this annually,” Nota added. “Once we hit the 2020 census, that information is really going to change.”
For now, the capital improvement plan ranks its municipal concerns along certain criteria such as community health and safety, federal and state mandates, the town’s capacity to secure outside funding, the preservation of vital infrastructure and affordability. Fiscal year 2020-2021 municipal projects currently include an LED lighting program, energy aggregation, waterfront and parking studies and highway garage rehabilitation and expansion projects. Importantly, however, the plan is not merely about laying out what projects the town would like to accomplish, but how to secure and maintain funding sources associated with such projects.
“This is not just projects, but our ability to afford them,” Nota said. “Outside funding opportunities that might accelerate or decelerate programs.”
“We’re still playing catch-up,” Nota added. “But we hope we fall back into a routine.”