BY MARA KNAUB

SUN STAFF WRITER

The Yuma City Council scrutinized the Capital Improvement Program plan for 2021 in a roundtable discussion held Tuesday. 

The CIP budget, at $51.4 million, is more than last year, but the city expects 45% of the costs to be recovered through grants, reimbursements and private-public partnerships.

City Engineer Jeff Kramer, in a staff presentation, noted that the needs are greater than the available resources, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Deputy Mayor Karen Watts, who took the reins in the absence of Mayor Doug Nicholls, thanked the staff for handling the “monumental task” of creating a budget in an “unprecedented year” that included a pandemic and shutdown of businesses. 

“We have a CIP budget created with these uncertainties in mind. I feel confident that our city will weather this health and financial crisis and will be back full force again,” Watts added.

City Administrator Phil Rodriguez noted that he believes that the proposed CIP plan “is the right plan for where we’re at.” He explained that the purpose of the roundtable discussion was to gather feedback from the council members and make sure it’s consistent with their vision.

Kramer, who is tasked with implementing the plan, noted that capital improvements include new construction and renovations to existing facilities. A project with a value of $25,000 or greater can be considered a capital improvement and can also include the purchase of equipment that would increase the function, efficiency or extend the life of a facility. The funding sources for the CIP include bonds, fees, taxes and grants. 

In the past year, Yuma completed 30 projects, including the completion of the Fleet Maintenance Facility, 16th Street paving project, upgrades to Fire Station 4, Avenue 3E and 1st Ave repaving. Currently, 17 projects are underway, either in the design phase or in construction, such as the intersection of 8th Street and Castle Dome.

The 2021 CIP includes 54 projects, with the biggest chunk, $20.3 million, going to the Yuma Crossing National Heritage Area. However, 88.2% of its projects will be funded through grants.

The summary, by department, notes that $13.5 million will go to Water Utility, $8.4 million to Transportation with 2.3% funded by grants, $5.7 million to Wastewater Utility, and $2 million to Parks and Recreation with 52% funded by grants. If a grant is not received, the project will not move forward, Kramer said.

Pointing to the $80,000 installation of a new digital marquee at the Pacific Avenue Athletic Complex, which he supports, Councilman Mike Shelton asked for an update on the facility, noting that travel restrictions might call for adjustments. Rodriguez noted that the council and public will soon get an update on what’s happening with the PAAC and what park facilities will look like in the summer and fall.

Another project that caught Shelton’s eye was the 16th Street widening, from 3rd Avenue to Maple Avenue, which will require the relocation of a Jack in the Box restaurant. The project will cost $200,000 to design in 2021, with a total cost of $5,696,583. Shelton asked whether the restaurant owner knew about the project. Kramer said that  the city has communicated with the restaurant in the past and will again when the design phase starts this coming year.

In discussing proposed improvements to Arizona Avenue from Palo Verde to Country Club Drive at a cost of $850,000 in 2021, with other improvements from 33rd Street to 40th Street in 2023, Watts noted that she had received complaints from constituents on trucks on that road. She asked whether trucks were allowed on Arizona Avenue. Rodriguez noted that only the sections from 10th Street to 24th Street and 32nd Street to 40th Street are designated as truck routes. Watts suggested signs could be put up in the residential sections where trucks are not allowed.

McClendon pointed to a project she thought could be held off. The project would remove and replace pavement, add bicycle lanes and install a traffic signal at the intersection of Avenue 9E and North Frontage road and perform other minor improvements on North Frontage Road and Avenue 10E at a cost of $2 million. Kramer explained that staff prioritized the project because it involves multiple agencies and the city wants to combine it with other projects happening at the same time.

Councilman Chris Morris asked when the city would see a return of investment on an $837,000 water supply project at the East Wetlands and PAAC. Kramer said it would take about 9.5 years, but that converting irrigation from drinking to non-potable water would result in significant savings every year.

Morris also questioned the funding, noting that the project would use bond funds remaining after the construction of the PAAC. He wondered whether the money could be returned for credit. Finance Director Lisa Marlin said that if the city already has the funds, it makes sense to use those if there is an appropriate project. Morris said he wanted to make sure it was a necessity, not the city just trying to find a project to fit the bill.

Shelton questioned the necessity of some projects for 2022 and 2023, asking whether the city could better use the funds for city interior streets. But Knight noted, and Watts agreed, that the council’s primary concern at this point should be the 2021 budget and if the city doesn’t have the funds when those projects come closer, then they can take them out of the CIP.

Rodriguez said that the council would have other opportunities through the year to shift priorities and redirect staff. He also pointed out that the public would also have the opportunity to give input at a hearing held during the May 20 council meeting.

Shelton said that looking across the CIP, the projects seemed “all worthy, all important, all have value, but we can’t do it all. We’re where the buck stops in determining which have the highest priorities given the resources we have. That’s what it’s all about.”

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