Rules of the Road

The purpose of this blog is to share with you my thoughts on issues pertaining to Oil City and Venango County and to foster discussion.

However, that requires some basic rules. Personal attacks, inappropriate language and venom-filled postings will not be tolerated. Comments will be screened, and if necessary edited, before posting.

Disagreement and a variety of opinions are encouraged, but I ask that it always be in a respectful, positive manner. So fire away, but do so cleanly

Friday, September 9, 2011

On Capital Needs and Reality

A few weeks ago City Council received a Capital Improvements Plan that outlines capital expenditure needs through 2016.

The plan was developed by the Community Development Office and reviewed and modified by the Planning Commission.

I’ve been a bit surprised there has not been more discussion about this, not by council, but by the local news media and community in general.

The problem is that despite being identified as “needs” – and many truly are – it is largely a wish list. There simply is not the money or the popular will to raise the money necessary to undertake even a tiny fraction of what is outlined in the plan.

Take street paving as one glaring example. The plan states the city should undertake $500,000 in paving in each of the next five years, for a total of $2.5 million. Looking at current funding levels using general fund, state liquid fuels and CDBG monies, the paving is under funded by $300,000 a year, for a total of $1.5 million by the end of 2016.

To raise an additional $300,000 a year would require approximately a 1.6 mill increase in real estate taxes.

And even spending $500,000 a year I have doubts if we would truly reach a state of paving equilibrium. The industry standard calls for repaving every 10 years.

When residents complain about why their street is not repaved the answer is simple: there is not the money. That has been the problem faced by every council for a generation.

Other infrastructure needs are equally as pressing and often even more costly. (As I write this, I received a call that the parking ramp might need a lot more in repairs than we planned) And the city’s facility and equipment needs are staggering.

And as any homeowner knows, putting off repairs and not replacing faulty equipment only leads to greater costs in the future.

Of course there is always borrowing, but that’s only spreading the costs out, often longer than whatever was paid for by borrowing.

Oil City is not alone in this predicament. Nearly every core community in the Commonwealth is in the same situation.

I don’t know what the answer is, but I do know that all of us must take a realistic look at what is possible, what we expect and what we are willing to give or give up.

I also know that the state needs to provide some long-term solutions for core communities, including addressing the issue of the high-percentage of tax exempt properties, distributing the costs for regional assets and leveling the playing field for all classes of municipalities.

(I need to also mention that a number of comments to previous blog posts were inadvertently and permanently deleted. I apologize.)