Mayor outlines spending plan for city surplus at council meeting

With $2 million in the city’s general surplus fund, Mayor Brooks Fetters outlined how he hopes to see those funds invested in the city during a State of the City address before the Huntington Common Council on Tuesday, Feb. 13.

Fetters, along with his senior leadership team, prepared the spending plan, which he said would help the city fulfill its focus for 2018: “Helping People Love Calling Huntington Home – Instilling Hometown Pride.”

Of the $1,785,000 in recommended investments, $120,000 has been apportioned for cost estimates and plans for the rehabilitation of the City Building. The facility was last renovated in 1989, said Fetters, and is in need of upgrades in several areas.

Providing the police department with more room is one of his main goals, said Fetters. Remarking that the department had outgrown its current space, Fetters stated that he would like to see it expand into the south side of the building, which has been vacant since 2013.

“We’re really kind of at that point where we need to secure the services of an architect to line up where we want to go to be able to have the police department utilize the area from basically where current water billing is, all the way down to State Street, where the fire department was,” he explained. “And how do we allow them to be able to utilize that space in a more effective way?”

Fetters also cited the utility billing office as an area of the building that needed overhauled. The office, he said, needed to be reworked to make it more customer-friendly.

Other necessary projects at the building, said Fetters, include upgrading its aging HVAC, electrical, plumbing and fiber optic systems. In the past five years, $160,000 has been spent on maintenance, he stated. In 2017 alone, $52,000 was expended; that continued a trend of costs doubling every year since 2015, which highlights the need for upgrades, said Fetters.

Fetters requested $180,000 for park capital expenditures. On the city’s wish list, he said, was lighting for the basketball, tennis, pickleball and horseshoe courts on the north side of Memorial Park, plus restrooms for that area.

Fetters also expressed a desire to purchase a pair of pick-up trucks, which would replace two trucks currently used by the park department that are both 20 years old. One of the new trucks, noted Fetters, would be equipped with a plow to expand the city’s fleet of snow-clearing vehicles.

The two current trucks would transition to the city’s landfill, where they would replace two older trucks at the end of their usefulness.

Fetters detailed a sidewalk rehabilitation initiative, for which $125,000 has been allocated. This initiative will fund the replacement of unsafe sections of sidewalk throughout the city. The 2012 ADA Transition Plan gives the city a clear picture of which sections need addressed. Fetters said he anticipates all of the plan’s immediate-priority sidewalks, 57 in all, and many of its medium-priority ones to be addressed with the initiative.

Ultimately, he projects approximately 3,500 feet of sidewalk would be remedied.

The sidewalk initiative is closely tied to another program the city would like to fund, the tree-lined streets initiative. Totaling $60,000, Fetters described the initiative as an effort to replace overgrown, diseased and disfigured trees in the community. He noted that replacements would be conducted with the protection of sidewalks in mind; no replacement trees would have root systems that damage sidewalks and curbs.

The majority of the initiative’s cost is tied to the purchase of a new stump grinder, which has a price tag of $50,000. The city’s current grinder, shared Fetters, is very old, inoperative and past the point of repairing. He explained that the city pays around $250 per stump removal, with an average of 50 removals occurring each year. Based on those numbers, he projected the return on investment for the new grinder to be four years.
Other sections of the spending plan included:

• $600,000, street and alley paving. These funds, used in conjunction with an Indiana Department of Transportation Community Crossings matching grant, would pay for the paving of 7.8 miles of streets and one mile of alleys, said Fetters.

• $420,000, stormwater improvement program. This program would fund two stormwater projects on West Park Drive; one, at the WPA spillway near Bartlett Street and the entrance to Memorial Park and the other at the culvert near Quayle Run. Fetters stated that these projects needed to be completed this year, as West Park Drive is scheduled to be repaved from Bartlett Street to U.S.-24 in 2019.

• $170,000, grapple truck. Fetters expressed a desire to add a second grapple truck to the city’s fleet, citing the extensive use of the current truck for a variety of programs.

• $60,000, brick and limestone gateway sign. The sign, said Fetters, would be installed along West Park Drive, near the western gateway to the city. Identical signs have already been erected at the city’s east and south gateways.

• $50,000, additional full-time ordinance officer. The police department has requested that a second ordinance officer be hired to assist the present officer, Austin Wolf, in addressing nuisance complaints, blighted properties, junk and abandoned vehicles in the city.

The spending plan will now be reviewed and possibly revised, with a vote on its passage set for the council meeting on Feb. 27.