City Council looks at community development budget

Warren City Council took a look at the community development budget during its workshop Thursday night.

City Planner David Hildebrandt led council through the proposed budget.

“What we’re trying to do, as far as planning, is look at possible future projects… just see if we can get some better things out for the community,” he said.

Hildebrandt noted the city has access to community development funds through three revolving loan funds outside the city’s general fund with approximately $275,000 in current assets. That funding has traditionally been used by the city redevelopment authority, but could be used for other community development work.

“We would like to talk about… utilizing some of these funds in some different ways,” Hildebrandt said.

Hildebrandt said he would like the city to look at residential and commercial rehabilitation work possibilities, especially along Pennsylvania Avenue from Conewango Avenue to the edge of town heading east.

“What can we do to help as far as residential/commercial along that corridor?” he asked.

Hildebrandt reported the Planning Commission has been looking at updates to the city’s comprehensive plan and noted grant money is available.

He said the city still had funding that was intended for continued streetscape work.

“The idea was to come back and look at some possible future projects,” Hildebrandt noted.

He said existing city funds, totaling approximately $1 million, held over from the Streetscape Phase I work could be used as a match for additional funding.

Hildebrandt said the city was considering using the funds for work on Liberty Street between Second and Third avenues.

Councilman James Zavinski asked if RCAP funding could be used to start Streetscape Phase II. City staff explained it could, but there was an expiration date on the availability of RCAP funding earmarked during Streetscape planning of November 2016.

Including city matching funds, total funding of $2.5 million would be available for an RCAP eligible project, such as Streetscape Phase II.

Councilman Sam Harvey questioned whether the city could do anything with the $1 million in possible match funds beyond setting it aside until needed.

“Isn’t there anything we can do with that money besides letting it just sit there?” he asked.

Harvey suggested possibly using the funds in a revolving loan capacity.

City Public Works Director Mike Holtz raised a possible issue saying, “The risk is you won’t have your match funds when you need them.”

Harvey then asked if the city could, essentially, “borrow from yourself before you go to the bank and pay four percent,” for capital items.

City Manager Nancy Freenock said that, due to it being economic development funds, she doubted it would be considered an allowable usage.

While the funds are currently in a money market account, city staff agreed to look at options to earn better interest rates while the money is being held in reserve.

Council also questioned changes to how administrative expenses for the community and economic development budget were being handled, after noting an increase for the manager’s expense from $14,000 to $28,000.

Hildebrandt explained that this year’s budget combined economic development management and planning and zoning management expenses.

“It’s stayed the same,” Hildebrandt explained. “That jump you see is the combining of the two programs.”

It is common for city staff salaries to be spread over multiple line items, as they often work with programs covered under multiple department budgets.