Waco City Council members wanted a wish list of capital needs from city department heads. They got their answer Tuesday: more than half a billion dollars worth of requests over five years.

In the next year alone, department heads are seeking $90.1 million in capital improvements, largely debt-financed. That could include $2.8 million for police evidence storage and crime scene lab, $4.2 million for fire station relocations, $5.3 million for parks and recreation projects and $7.5 million for street improvements.

City Manager Dale Fisseler will make his budget proposal to the city council this summer, but he allowed department heads this year to make their case directly to the council’s budget and audit committee even before Fisseler drafts his budget.

“In the past, I would cut it back and say, ‘This is what I’m going to recommend,’ ” Fisseler said. “But this year, because (the council) has so much invested in infrastructure, I felt they needed to see the projects. I wanted the department heads to make a presentation so the council sees the balance we have to make.”

City officials appear to have a new appetite for making public investments, including $77 million in bonds the council authorized for water, wastewater and street improvements last year.

“I think that’s been a theme over the last couple of years,” Mayor Kyle Deaver said. “I think that appetite continues to get our infrastructure into shape and take care of our parks and streets. . . . We’ve got a lot of deferred maintenance in cities in America we need to catch up on.”

Tax rate priorities

During a four-hour meeting Tuesday, council members and staff discussed the possibility of shifting more of the existing tax rate — up to 9 cents on a tax rate of 77.6 cents per $100 valuation — to cover new debt-financed capital projects. A 9-cent shift could fund $137.8 million of new capital projects during the next five years. That is in addition to water and sewer projects, which are funded by utility rates.

The proposed tax-supported projects over the next five years are numerous but include the following:

  • $21.1 million for fire services, including $5.6 million in the next two years to relocate Fire Station No. 5 and Fire Station No. 6.
  • $7 million for police facilities, including $2.5 million next year to renovate the property room at the old police station on Fourth Street and a new building close to police headquarters for crime scene analysis. In addition, Assistant Chief Frank Gentsch asked for $1.7 million over several years to replace aging and inefficient windows at the police headquarters tower.
  • $18.3 million in drainage improvements, including $1.4 million next year. City officials are studying the possibility of a stormwater fee to pay for such projects instead of using property taxes.
  • $211.8 million in street improvements, including $7.5 million for general street improvements and $1.1 million in sidewalk improvements next year. Nearly $10 million would go to the joint city-county project to improve Speegleville Road over the next couple of years. Also proposed for next year is a $3.4 million project to rebuild and widen part of Richie Road, paid in part by the developer of the new Park Meadows subdivision. Councilman John Kinnaird called the project “critical.”
  • $32 million during the next five years for the city’s share of a city-county service facility on South 12th Street and Loop 340, housing the water office, solid waste, purchasing, streets and traffic departments. Much of that money would come from solid waste and water funds rather than property taxes.
  • $41.4 million for park and recreation improvements, including $5.3 million this year for parkland acquisition, facility renovations and new facilities.

Parks director John Williams is pushing in the next two years for a $1.5 million inclusive playground where children could play together regardless of disability.

He also is calling this year for a $350,000 face lift for the Bledsoe-Miller Community Center and renovations for several parks and facilities: $800,000 for Lawson’s Point and Emmons Cliff in Cameron Park, $500,000 for the Suspension Bridge, $900,000 for Indian Spring Park and $900,000 for Cotton Palace Park.

Future projects include a $6.7 million Bledsoe-Miller renovation and $11.3 million for new development at the Waco Mammoth National Monument, though most of that money would be from private or federal funds.

Fisseler, the city manager, said he expects to include at least $200,000 in engineering for the inclusive park in the coming year’s budget.

“For the other (park) projects, I don’t think there’s a question of whether they need to be done, but that was a pretty aggressive schedule he laid out,” Fisseler said.

Deaver agreed that the inclusive park is a priority, and he also wants to see parkland developed in underserved areas, such as Trailblazer Park in the West Highway 84 corridor. He said he also would like to see Emmons Cliff and Lawson’s Point brought up to par with the rest of Cameron Park.

“I think parks are certainly a big part of quality of life for our citizens,” Deaver said.

J.B. Smith is the the Tribune-Herald managing editor. A native of Sulphur Springs, he attended Southwestern University and joined the Tribune-Herald in 1997. He and his wife, Bethany, live in Waco and have two children.

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