City begins capital planning

News File Photo Crews work to replace and water and sewer pipes on Miller Street in Alpena in this October News file photo. The Miller Street work was part of the city’s capital improvement plan, which lays out the city’s goals for infrastructure and other projects for the next six years. City officials are about to start the next round of capital planning to lay out goals for the following six budget years.

ALPENA — Each year, the City of Alpena updates its capital improvement plan, which helps officials schedule projects and large purchases.

The plan lists the projects by priority and looks out six years. Projects can be shuffled and amended, depending on the amount of money available to accomplish them.

For the last several weeks, city department heads, as well as officials from the Alpena Downtown Development Authority, have been compiling lists of projects they’d like to see completed. Those lists will be presented to the Alpena Municipal Council and the Alpena Planning Commission during a joint meeting in February.

After that, each project will be considered by cost and need by council members during the budget-making process.

Alpena Planning and Development Director Adam Poll said looking six years out helps the city plan and make sure enough money will be available for projects when the time comes.

“We want to be sure we account for the projects that are coming down the line and not have too many fall into one fiscal year,” Poll said. “In a lot of cases, if we’re looking for grant funding, we often need to know that one or two years in advance, because you may apply, but then it won’t be processed for six months and maybe another nine months to award the grant.

“That is why it is good to have the plans squared away annually to make them work in the timeframe we want,” he added.

Poll said that, often, a project needs to be listed in a capital improvement plan to be eligible for grant funding, or to be awarded points in grant scoring systems. He used the splash park that opened last year and other improvements at Starlite Beach as an example of projects that were listed in such a plan and received funding because it was.

“We were able to get the (Michigan Department of Natural Resources) grant for the splash park, as well as the trailhead, because they were in the plan,” Poll said. “We needed to show the state that those projects were part of a plan. That can be true for other projects, as well, whether it be for water and sewer improvements at the water plant or street and road funding.”

Poll said that, because a capital improvement plan is a living document that can be amended to fit the city’s needs and finances, at times changes are made because there is an unexpected increase in funding or a donation. He said that was the case with the splash park after the Alpena Rotary Club committed a great deal of funding for it.

“Needless to say, the splash park wasn’t our number-one priority for our parks system for that given year,” he said. “However, because of the generous donation from Rotary and DNR that covered the cost of most of the project, we were able to move it forward.”

The planning commission is involved in the process, because it is directly involved in updating the city’s comprehensive plan, which is also known as the master plan. He said the capital improvement plan is tied directly to that document, and having planning commissioners involved is paramount to making sure the right projects are where they need to be and funded accordingly.

However, it will be the Municipal Council that will have the final say on which projects are a go or no-go come budget time.

“Not everyone gets what they want,” Poll said. “Each department submits projects, but some departments, such as engineering and (the Department of Public Works) often get more because they maintain streets, infrastructure, use more machinery and vehicles and things of that nature.”

The capital improvement plan doesn’t just contain projects such as roads or work done to the parks or marina. Purchases such as police cars and fire trucks and tools and technology needed by departments to service residents are also included.

The city budget runs from July 1 through June 30 and each member of the planning commission and council will receive data about the proposed projects. They will then consider the propopsals and offer changes or tweaks, if needed.

Poll said a firm date for the joint meeting has not been set, but that it will be in February.

Steve Schulwitz can be reached at 989-358-5689 at sschulwitz@thealpenanews.com. Follow him on Twitter @ss_alpeanews.com.