Last Tuesday, the Santa Cruz City Council proposed its Capital Improvement Program (CIP), which would fund a laundry list of projects for the fiscal years 2011-2013. Although the majority of the projects are slated to begin in 2011, some may begin before December.
Serving as the city’s outline for major expenditures, the CIP addresses many of the city’s pressing needs by covering a wide range of projects, everything from repaving broken roads to replacing outdated fire engines, and beyond.
With the overview alone at 76 pages and a price tag of nearly $260 million, the CIP has room for little more than the projects that are deemed absolutely necessary.
The CIP is, in essence, a collection of highly expensive needs (such as new fire engines) that cannot be paid for with city money and will be funded instead by outside money — most of it from grants and federal stimulus.
Unsurprisingly, several proposed projects didn’t make the cut. One unfunded but very popular project that has received a lot of attention from the public is the King Street Bicycle Boulevard project.
“It’s clearly frustrating and disappointing for citizens to see that we’re not just not building the boulevard, but we’re not even studying the street right now,” said City Councilmember Katherine Beiers. “What we need to do is work with the neighborhood to begin making this possible. I want to do that.”
The project, which proposed turning the street into a boulevard for bicycles only, was supported by local residents. Presently, many Santa Cruz drivers choose to turn onto King Street when the often used Mission Street becomes too traffic-choked.
While many wonder why projects similar to the King Street Bicycle Boulevard project have been left unfunded, Vice Mayor Ryan Coonerty said it is difficult for those outside the City Council to comprehend the mechanics behind the city’s funding.
“It’s sort of complicated,” Vice Mayor Ryan Coonerty said. “A big part of the CIP is paid for out of enterprise funds, grants and stimulus money, which are restricted [to specific kinds of expenditures].”
Having the city fund a CIP project entirely with money from the general fund is out of the question, as Santa Cruz currently faces a budget deficit of about 4 million dollars.
“The four votes needed to dip into the general funds just don’t exist,” Beiers said. “To include one project [into the CIP] means that the City Council has to look at scenarios to choose what other project(s) get cut.”
In previous years, when the city had a budget surplus, the city of Santa Cruz was able to dole out money from the general fund to handle the otherwise unfunded projects. Now, however, any project not propped up almost entirely by stimulus money gets tabled.
Even with federal and state aid, however, funds cannot always be appropriated towards the unfunded projects. The Gas Tax Fund, for instance, comes through California’s Gasoline Tax, and may only be used for transportation expenditures, such as road paving.
Mayor Mike Rotkin believes an expanded tax base might help alleviate the dependence on government stimulus aid, but remains skeptical that the Santa Cruz citizenry would vote to pass such measures.
“The people are not quick to approve of just any measure to support the tax base,” Rotkin said. “You are just not going to find something that might be profitable for most cities, like a steel mill, here. It’s just not Santa Cruz.”
Rotkin added that the high expectations of local voters for social programs, coupled with their steadfastness against several of the city’s proposals to increase the city’s tax revenue have left the City Council with little choice about what to do with the CIP’s unfunded projects.
“In some areas, like water pipeline infrastructure, we’re doing alright. There are some areas, however, where we’re falling way behind on improving the city.”
Official copies of the CIP are available at the Santa Cruz City Council’s website.