Town prioritizes capital projects, sets public hearing

Posted on Tuesday, November 26, 2013 at 4:53 pm

In the true spirit of the season, Ashland’s town council OK’d its wish list for the next fiscal year when it met Nov. 19, agreeing to send their proposed Capital Improvement Program to public hearing next month.

Town Council reviews annually its CIP for the coming fiscal year, a vision document that identifies and prioritizes capital projects throughout town over a five-year span.

Town Council was asked to rank projects prior to the meeting. Based on those rankings, staff divvied projects into two different tiers.

“I know that this is perhaps the hardest thing that I’ve been asked to do all year long,” said Mayor Faye Prichard. “I really struggled with this one.”

Top priority projects include constructing a turn lane at Route 1 and Vitamin Shoppe Way, improving the Route 1 and Route 54 intersection and continuing downtown sidewalk improvements. Council also prioritized renovations at Carter Park Pool and the recently acquired Ashland Theater.

Second-tier projects include improvements to railroad crossings in town and the I-95 interchange, the town-wide drainage improvement program, renovations to Town Hall, and realigning the Ellet’s Crossing intersection.

“There’s nothing here that’s got a pause button on it because of where it’s ranked,” said Charles Hartgrove, town manager. “Most of these things have progress coming in the near future or are already under construction.”

While the projects have been identified as priorities, that does not mean the town has identified funding sources for all of them.

For example, the current CIP contains 32 projects. According to a memorandum to council, “Some of the projects are fully funded, some of the projects are partially funded, and many of the projects are completely unfunded. The approach the staff has taken is that lack of funding should not deter us from including a project in the CIP as the opportunity for funding can arise through various means quickly and unexpectedly.”

The public will have a chance to weigh in on the Town of Ashland’s proposed capital improvement program for the fiscal year beginning in July 2014 when town council meets Dec. 17.

Prior to their action on the CIP, the town received good news from its auditor, Mike Garber of PBMares, who gave Ashland two clean opinions for its financial recordkeeping as well as internal controls and compliance.

“It’s always happy news when your auditor shows up,” Garber said. “I will not ruin that record, or I guess I should say, management has not ruined that record.”

Overall, the assets of the Town exceeded its liabilities at the close of the most recent fiscal year by $24.2 million.

Garber did recommend increased financial controls at the town pool based on a visit there. He also informed the town of a VRS liability that will be pulled onto the town’s books but does not affect any day-to-day operations.

Overall, Garber praised the town’s financial position and also said that Ashland is the only debt-free locality he audits.

“You’re the only entity that I [work with] across the state, where I can stand here and say, ‘You have no debt,’” he said, pointing out that having zero debt obligations frees the town up to fund other capital needs.

“Good leadership and thinking through those types of things now has gotten you to where you are,” Garber added.

Town Council next meets Tuesday, Dec. 3, 7 p.m., at Town Hall.

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