Columbia City Council is talking about some high-dollar building projects, including $12 million for a sports complex and $8.5 million in improvements at two public housing complexes.
The projects are not yet funded but could be, at least partially, if a surplus of money becomes available at the end of the budget year on June 30.
The biggest winner could be the city’s signature park, Finlay Park. The downtown park could see $15 million in long-awaited improvements and new amenities if and when money becomes available.
City staff has prioritized a number of projects identified by staffers and council members. It could take years, though, and possibly multiple funding sources to pay for everything, city staff said Tuesday.
Requests coming specifically from council members – some of which are longstanding ideas – include a $12 million request from Mayor Steve Benjamin and Councilwoman Tameika Isaac Devine to build a sports complex.
That project would be a versatile complex built to host, for instance, youth sports tournaments, Devine said.
“It really is a money maker,” Devine said. “Kids can’t go by themselves, so when kids come, usually their whole families come. Usually the tournaments are over weekends, so they stay the whole weekend.”
The project, already a couple of years along in discussions, has had a feasibility study done but still lacks funding and a definite location, Devine said.
The sports complex falls midway down a council-requested priorities list that is topped by a wish for underground utility lines, potentially costing between $500,000 and $1 million annually, as well as an $8.5 million request for the Columbia Housing Authority to fund infrastructure projects at the Gonzales Gardens and Allen Benedict Court public housing complexes.
The request is part of Benjamin’s strategy of “creative” thinking, he said, to try to build up the city’s public housing infrastructure the way it has done with student housing projects. It is common, he said, for the city to pitch in money to the federally funded, independent Columbia Housing Authority to improve public housing developments. Discussions are still under way about ways to pay for improvements to Gonzales Gardens and Allen-Benedict Court.
The list of capital improvement projects includes more than 30 general service, parks and recreation, public safety and public works projects valued at more than $32 million, in addition to about a dozen projects specially requested by council members.
Funding for the projects is not included in the $130 million budget for the upcoming year, which was given final approval Tuesday and goes into effect July 1.
<a href-"http://www.columbiasc.net/depts/budget-office/fy_15-16_budget_in_brief_for_web.pdf"><STRONG>READ THE BUDGET</STRONG></A>
It’s not possible to predict how much money will be left over on June 30 from this year’s budget for any projects, assistant city manager Melissa Caughman said. Last year saw about a $5 million surplus.
The projects’ potential funding is prioritized based on public safety impact, functionality and enhancements to quality of life. Among the city’s top priorities are fire station and fire headquarters renovations ($350,000); Finlay Park restoration and new amenities ($15 million, not including future phases of upgrades); and construction of the Busby Street Resource and Community Policing Center ($2.5 million).
A number of the requested capital projects, such as neighborhood improvement plans requested by Councilwoman Leona Plaugh and renovations and enhancements to Hyatt Park, already have some money set aside but are awaiting full funding. It could take years for some of those projects to be fully funded, Caughman said. And funds already set aside and waiting could be reallocated to complete other projects if council chooses, she said.
Some capital projects also could be funded by alternative sources beyond the budget surplus, such as bonds, grants or future budget line-item allocations.