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Batavia council urged to set project priorities

Public works director issues challenge to aldermen

Batavia Public Works Director Gary Holm is urging the Batavia City Council to set priorities for major infrastructure projects in the 2019 city budget.
Batavia Public Works Director Gary Holm is urging the Batavia City Council to set priorities for major infrastructure projects in the 2019 city budget.

BATAVIA – There is a long wish list of big infrastructure projects that Batavia aldermen would like to undertake, with many the subject of discussion but little or no action for years.

Batavia Public Works Director Gary Holm is urging the Batavia City Council to set some priorities and determine how it is going to fund them.

“This is a critical juncture for the council to determine the future direction of the city,” Holm told aldermen during an Aug. 28 committee meeting.

In recent weeks, city department heads have taken turns presenting the council with midyear reports designed to set the stage for this fall’s discussions to determine the 2019 city budget.

Holm’s Public Works Department is the city’s largest, including the operation of the water, sewer and electrical utilities and the maintenance of city streets, cemeteries and buildings.

The city has a “roadway funding gap,” Holm said, and is not keeping up with needed resurfacing of city streets.

“We need considerably more funds for our roads,” Holm said.

While priding themselves on a low city property tax levy, aldermen have struggled to find the money for major engineering work. After years of delay, the massive stormwater drainage projects that got underway this spring were made possible only after the council approved large bond issues.

Aldermen have been identifying potential projects during strategic planning sessions this summer.

These include a second Fox River bridge, riverbank erosion control measures, pedestrian safety enhancements, vehicle parking and infrastructure maintenance.

Holm said these potential projects represent tens of millions of dollars in cost to the city.

Those are on top of the looming need for a solution guaranteeing the future of Depot Pond as the Challenge Dam continues to deteriorate. The city currently is engaged in work to install lighting and signs near the dam to warn pedestrians and boaters of the general danger.

Another major project well along in the planning stages and scheduled for next year is the renovation and reconfiguration of the Batavia City Hall building interior, even as work proceeds now to replace the building’s windows.

Holm told the council that in order to fund any of the projects identified, it likely will need to increase property taxes.

Careful to defer to the aldermen as the policy-makers, Holm said that should they decide to take a more fiscally conservative course, his department has proven it can operate effectively within the means provided by the council.

“We can do that,” Holm said.

But he also said there is little point for the council to spend money on feasibility studies and then not follow through.

If Holm's comments had broken any protocols, aldermen did not seem to mind. Rather, they voiced agreement with his observations.

“I appreciate you putting us on the spot,” 5th Ward Alderman Mark Uher said. “We need to start setting money aside.”

Fourth Ward Alderman Susan Stark said that the council has approached major engineering projects in a piecemeal manner.

“Trying to put a plan together with funding has been a struggle,” 2nd Ward Alderman Alan Wolff said.

Mayor Jeff Schielke has been telling aldermen in recent weeks that the city needs to come up with its share of funding for the future reconstruction of South Prairie Street from East Wilson to Pine streets, and for Main Street from Water Street to South Van Nortwick Avenue, or risk losing the federal grant funds that will pay for most of the work.

Meanwhile, both Holm and City Administrator Laura Newman said aldermen can expect to be presented with a staff recommendation to increase water and sewer rates in 2019.

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