City committee discusses future grant possibilities
Though the Watertown finance committee unanimously approved to apply for the state’s 2018 Transportation Alternatives Program grant, there was considerable discussion on which projects should be prioritized in the application. The grant, offered by the Wisconsin Department of Transportation, provides an 80 percent contribution for projects that fall within its criteria to improve alternative transportation across the state. The TAP grant now operates on a four year cycle, allowing recipients from 2018-22 to begin accepted projects.
Based on input from the city’s Engineering Department, Public Works Commission and Bike and Pedestrian Task Force, the grant seeks funds for a shared use path on South Church Street that connects Jefferson Road to Air Park Drive along with another on North Fourth Street that connects State Highway 26 Frontage Road to Meadowbrook Drive. The application also requests funding for the first phase of a riverwalk project that would run from Main to Cady streets.
City Engineer Jaynellen Holloway said the shared use path connecting Jefferson Road to Air Park Drive is currently the first priority, largely because of input from Maranatha Baptist University and Luther Preparatory School.
“Their number one overwhelming request was to have a shared use path along that location because many of their students have to walk or ride their bicycles to get to Walmart and back.”
Holloway said the riverwalk was prioritized second followed by the shared use path on North Fourth Street.
Alderman Fred Smith questioned the ordering of the projects, noting that some may be difficult to fund because the city’s plans to substantially reduce borrowing in upcoming years.
The intention for reduced borrowing in future budgets is largely due to the $4.1 million in borrowing that was approved in the 2018 budget and again Monday night after the committee voted on a resolution which provides for the sale of general obligation promissory notes.
Smith said it might make more sense to put the riverwalk project at the top of the list because of its location within a tax increment financing district.
Mayor John David said while there are currently plans to pay for the riverwalk with future money from the TIF district, the funding does not yet exist.
“We are going to need development downtown to make that happen easier,” David said. “The money we have budgeted now is mostly for property acquisition.”
Smith said because of the diminished borrowing, there would be a possibility that the city would have to return the grant if approved for a project it can’t afford, something Holloway said is certainly possible, but may affect future grant awards.
“If only one project was able to be funded, wouldn’t it be particularly sad if we can’t meet our share because we can’t fund it out of annual borrowing,” Smith said.
Mayor John David said aside from requests from the schools, he has received several other citizen requests for the South Church Street path as well.
“I think the riverwalk is huge but there are still a lot of questions I don’t have the answers to right now,” David said.
Alderman Augie Tietz said he thinks the shared use paths provide strategic connections within the city whereas the first phase of the riverwalk, while important, only covers a short distance.
Tietz also noted that the city is at a disadvantage when it comes to the grant because it does not belong to a regional planning organization such as Southeast Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission.
“They get allocated a huge number of dollars,” Tietz said. “What’s left over is what comes into the half a dozen counties that don’t belong to a regional planning group.”
Ultimately the committee approved Smith’s motion to submit the application for the three projects “in any order that is felt more advantageous when the submission is made.”
In other business the committee:
-- Unanimously approved the advertising of a city owned 1997 Ford pickup truck on Wisconsin Surplus, an online auction website.
-- Unanimously approved a residency requirement 12 month deadline extension for a police officer who lives 33 miles away from the city, a number just above the 25 mile limit.
-- Unanimously approved a job description questionnaire recommendation from Carlson Dettmann Consulting for a assistant billing clerk position that will soon be created for the city’s water and street departments. The position will begin at $16.96 per hour.
-- Unanimously approved a salary increase for recently appointed Fire Chief Kraig Biefeld. As per the city’s employee handbook, Biefeld was given step increase for being promoted two grades amounting to $42.15 per hour. The new amount also reflects an increase given for paramedic pay.
-- Unanimously approved the purchase of a new fingerprint scanner for the police department. The scanner, along with related equipment will be purchased from ID Networks for $9,998. By purchasing the new scanner, the city will avoid the $3,500 fee which would have been charged this year for maintenance of the old machine.
-- Unanimously approved a performance bonus for seven redlined employees that have reached the highest step in their pay grade.
-- Unanimously approved to change the job description of the police department’s property custodian. Some of the new duties of the position will include coordinating the sale of city property, reviewing public records and transferring squad car video to the department server. The property custodian will receive $1.61 per hour more for the new responsibilities.
-- Unanimously voted to allow Street Superintendent Rick Schultz pursue vehicle replacement options for a city owned 2005 Ford Escape that is in disrepair.
-- Unanimously approved the engineering department to send a letter of interest to PeopleforBikes, an organization that distributes grants of up to $10,000 for bike and pedestrian projects. Holloway said while there is no required local match for the grant, only about 10 percent of projects submitted receive funding. If the city was selected the money would be used toward a shared use path on Carriage Hill Drive.