By PHIL NOBILE
At Harrison’s first capital budget work session of the year, the Department of Public Works pitched a proposal for almost $8 million in potential projects, along with the police department and library pitching respective needs for funding.
At the April 24 session, Harrison Mayor Ron Belmont and the rest of the all-Republican Town Council heard from members of the town’s most active and prominent departments. Potential projects requested by each department for 2014 ranged from building renovations to community centers throughout Harrison, cameras for a police surveillance project, police license plate readers and renovations to one of the town’s three libraries.
“The [capital budget] process can be a lengthy one, depending on the will of the Town Council,” Comptroller Maureen MacKenzie said. “They will review the requests, probably ask for some more information from the department who submitted it, revisit our outstanding bond numbers and how much we will be paying down in principal this year and then look at the whole package in totality.”
A capital budget comprises major projects and investments for a municipality to make in a single year, with projects ranging from work on public parks and buildings to buying of new equipment
Last year, the town bonded $7.9 million for its 2013 capital projects: $2.9 million for public works, $1.2 million for police, $3.3 million for Westchester Joint Water Works and $77,000 for the West Harrison library.
A tentative bonding total for 2014 was not provided as of press time.
The potential public works capital budget for the upcoming year was the highest of the group who presented at the work session with Department of Public Works Commissioner Anthony Robinson requesting more than double his department’s budget last year. The commissioner requested $7.8 million in town funding for 2014. The amount breaks down to $3.6 million for equipment and $4.1 million for buildings and infrastructure.
The public works commissioner described the particularly harsh winter as a primary reason for the high budget, along with the need to replace equipment and vehicles that are “failing or have failed.”
“Without even looking closely, we have $3 million worth of work we could be doing for resurfacing our roads,” Robinson said. “Clearly, it’s not a practical number to try and achieve in one budget year.”
Robinson requested 21 new vehicles from the town, ranging from dump trucks to construction vehicles to maintenance trucks for the highway, sanitation and parks departments totaling more than $3.5 million. For buildings and infrastructure, he requested funds to resurface roads, repair sidewalks and fix drainage, accounting for a hefty amount of his request.
According to Robinson, numerous buildings and community centers throughout the town need significant fixes and upgrades: the town’s Girl Scout House, Sollazzo Center, the Westchester Joint Water Works building and more were listed as needing attention.
The most costly project identified was the Leo Mintzer Center in West Harrison. Robinson said the total work to keep the building viable could be around $2.5 million, adding that, this year alone, $800,000 needs to be spent on roof replacement, wall replacement and interior work.
“Obviously no one wants to throw that much money into an old facility, because there are always other things you haven’t discovered yet,” Robinson said, referring to possible electrical and ventilation problems. “Not knowing what the long term plan is [for the Mintzer center], I had to put something in this budget.”
Robinson touted a recent effort by his department, automated sanitation trucks, as a “home run” with the residents that have been using the program. Asking for input from the town on whether to expand the program or not, Robinson admitted there were some difficulties initially in training his workers on the system.
“Anything new is very hard to sell, but it was well received after initial pushback,” he said. “We thought we were going to have an issue teaching old dogs new tricks with the new system, but it was amazing how they took to it.”
Along with the Department of Public Works, the Harrison Police Department pled its case for capital needs, with Chief Anthony Marraccini saying his plan was “scaled back” from around $1 million to $480,000 to “keep to the real basics.” He said the department’s request deals primarily with technological upgrades.
“The police department is growing faster in technology, faster than any department in the town, so I have no choice to keep up with it and maintain it,” Marraccini said.
Along with a few new vehicles, the majority of the police department’s proposed capital budget consisted of a $200,000 “town surveillance project,” which calls for general video surveillance and license plate readers on utility poles throughout Harrison. Marraccini said the project has been “in the making” for more than two years and that the decision on vendors for the equipment needed was in process.
The Harrison Public Library also presented its budget for the West Harrison branch to the tune of $300,000, which, according to library director Galina Chernykh, requires various replacements and revamps after years of use.
The most important part of the proposal, according to the library director, calls for replacement of the ventilation and heater system in the West Harrison library—which dates back to 1988—at a cost of more than $50,000. The plan also calls for replacement of doors, windows and carpeting for the facility.
No further work sessions for the capital budget have been scheduled, and no other departments have presented potential projects to the board as of press time, according to MacKenzie. The comptroller added a potential $1.1 million in certioraris is “coming down the pike.”