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City dreams of spending money

Members of the Oak Harbor City Council have millions upon millions of dollars worth of projects they would like to accomplish.

The problem is that the city doesn’t have millions of extra dollars stuffed under the mattress, so to speak.

“I don’t know where all the money will come from,” Mayor Patty Cohen admitted Thursday.

Finance Director Doug Merriman plans to lay it all on the line at a budget workshop Nov. 22. He hopes to help the council prioritize funding for many projects and begin to develop long-range funding strategies.

The grand total for everything the council has in mind is at least $40 million, much of which would come from the general fund. A few of the projects have dedicated revenues, while the city is searching for grant funding for many of the others.

Even so, the city will likely have to borrow money to get many of these projects accomplished.

“To pay for all these issues with cash would be impossible,” Merriman said. “There would have to be some bonding.”

The city’s biggest project is the downtown redevelopment and marketing plan, created by tourism consultant Roger Brooks. It’s estimated to cost about $33 million, including a $7 million pier at Flintstone Park. The city is advertising for a grant writing position; the person will search for state and federal grants, but matching funds from the city will probably be required.

A city consultant suggested that the city build a new, $1.4 million City Hall in five years and make about $350,000 in repairs to the current, overcrowded building in the meantime.

City staff and a consultant have also looked into the possibility of ending the city’s contract with the county to run municipal court and instead run the court out of a city building. The move may save money over the long run, but it means an initial capital investment.

A council ad hoc committee is investigating the possibility of building an animal shelter, moving the operation out of the ramshackle building on the Seaplane Base. Police Chief Steve Almon said a new building would cost about $150 to $250 a square foot. A 4,000-square-foot building, for example, would cost at least $600,000.

The city has plans for a $3.7 million project to extend sewer lines to to the Goldie Road industrial area. The city made application to the county for $1 million in rural counties economic development funds.

A consultant and city staff are currently working on a 15-year master plan for the city’s aging marina. Early indications from the consultants estimate that the marina will need anywhere from $4 million to $17 million in improvements.

Council members have also discussed the need for a second fire hall in the southwestern part of the city. They haven’t talked about specific price tags for construction, though Councilman Paul Brewer has long been nagging city staff to collect fire impact fees on all development.

The third phase of the Fort Nugent Park will cost about $800,000 to put in more athletic fields, a playground and picnic areas. Most of the funding, however, will come from park impact fees, and the county is also contributing $100,000.

Several city council members have said that moving the sewage treatment plant out of City Beach Park — also known as Windjammer Park — is a top priority. The city contracted with a consultant to do a study of the city’s sewage system, including possible relocation of the waterfront plant. There are no cost estimates.

City leaders have been working with the state Department of Transportation to widen and redesign Highway 20 in the south end of the city. While the DOT is responsible for the highway, the city may have to contribute to the project in order to get it done.

The city recently formed an arts council. While there may be grant money available for art-related projects, the city would likely have to contribute matching funds to any meaningful project.

And there’s the city’s ongoing negotiations with the Navy for control of water and sewer systems. The Navy is privatizing water and sewer systems at the Ault Field and Seaplane bases. City leaders have been negotiating with the Navy for years. It’s been an expensive process that may cost more before it’s over.

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