City officials last week outlined $6.7 million in capital requests for 2020 as well as discussed expenditures over the next five years.
The various segments were broken down into infrastructure, police and fire equipment and vehicles, service equipment and fleet, building and grounds, community life, information technology and water reclamation.
Among discussion topics presented to the City Council Finance Committee, Finance Director Matthew Rubino said that forecasted are security upgrades to city buildings, the possibility of helping to fund an expansion for the Solon Branch of the Cuyahoga County Public Library to house an Innovation Center as well as a possible change in how the city-owned Grantwood Golf Course is funded.
“It’s time for us to be more serious about building security,” Mr. Rubino said, both for the city employees of the buildings themselves as well as those residents who enter them.
Security upgrades of about $150,000 have been outlined, including the possibility of controlled entries or the use of security cameras.
“We think this will be priority in 2020-2021,” Mr. Rubino said, adding that the administration would seek input from the new police chief when that position is filled.
Proposed upgrades to Grantwood Golf Course include $325,000 in lighting as well as improvements to the restrooms, banquet hall and pro shop, among other needs, for a total of $635,000. Those details prompted a discussion about funding options for the course.
While the course’s operations are fully covered by its own revenue, the city pays for the capital needs of the course, including facilities and equipment, from the general fund. That amounts to the city giving the course between $200,000 and $300,000 a year.
Mr. Rubino brought up the idea of trying to self-fund the course through various sources.
Some options include short-term financing to get some of the rehabilitation projects done and then having an annual debt service over time that the course’s surplus can support.
“This will relieve pressure on the general fund,” Mr. Rubino said, “and we can get closer to having a truly self-supportive golf course.”
Municipal golf courses have significant headwinds, Mr. Rubino continued. “Grantwood is bucking the trend and covering its operations through fees and other charges, so they are slighting adding to the fund balance.”
But each year the city is padding that fund balance, he said.
“Even with the volatility of the weather, the current fee structure continues to cover operations, but the question is, ‘is it truly 100 percent self supportive?’”
“Is the golf course an amenity for the community?” he said. “That is for elected officials to discuss, not me.”
Mr. Rubino added of the large-scale lighting project that he will recommend to the mayor doing some repairs and then pushing this project back.
“I think Grantwood is doing well, but it’s in the back of my head (that) I have major concerns about it,” Councilwoman Nancy E. Meany said. “Other cities have golf courses and it can be a real albatross.
“I look at Aurora when they tried to save (theirs) and that was a disaster for their city,” Mrs. Meany said.
Grantwood is doing great, she continued “and it’s been a great summer but maybe (we) look at some alternative funding.”
Councilman Jeremy A. Zelwin said he believes trying to self-fund the course through funding sources is a great idea.
In discussion of a potential Innovation Centerm, of which the library is estimating would cost $2 million to expand to accomodate one, Councilman Robert N. Pelunis asked if there has been any consideration to utilizing existing city space instead.
Mayor Edward H. Kraus said they had initially looked at going into the industrial area, but that did not pan out. Instead, they met with the library and came up with the idea of doing a joint innovation center.
All of the library’s 20,000 square feet of space is being utilized, so an expansion was proposed. An innovation center would need a minimum of 5,000 square feet, the mayor said.
Mr. Zelwin asked if the library could share the cost of the project, and the mayor said it would be split 50/50. Mr. Rubino recommended that the city’s contribution be aimed at the shell of the building, as it owns the building, and the library would be responsible for the interior and its maintenance and the staffing of the center.
Based on what the city knows about the project scope and estimate, the city’s share could be up to $1 million, Mr. Rubino said the mayor is supportive of this level of committment for an innovation center at the library, he added.
Mr. Rubino said that it was conveyed to the city at a previous meeting that the library board approved the library’s commitment of one half of the project funding. Any formal commitment of funds from the city would be brought before city council for the necessary approval, Mr. Rubino said.
Mayor Kraus said if a center was done at a city building other than the library, the library would have no interest in partnering. It is important that the library provide the staffing, the mayor said, as staffing is so critical for innovation centers.
“I like the location,” the mayor said. “It’s easy access for students and not far from the industrial area to be able to access it.” Plus it is close to the community and senior centers, he said.
“Have any other city buildings been looked at?” Mr. Pelunis asked.
“Not that I can think of,” Mayor Kraus said. “I don’t see it here,” he said of City Hall. The Community Center would be a possibility, but it too would need to be expanded and then the city would have to staff it.”
Mr. Rubino said the library system has existing innovation centers in other areas including Mayfield Heights and Garfield Heights.
“Ours would be unique because it would be marketed for the business community to use,” Mayor Kraus said.
“If we are thinking about doing this, we should look at all the different avenues of funding,” Mr. Pelunis said. “We should take our time with this.”
Another large community development project in future years includes an amphitheater near the Solon Center for the Arts. There is a $2 million placeholder for that project, Mr. Rubino said.
The mayor said if he had to prioritize between the Innovation Center and the Amphitheater, he would choose the Innovation Center due to the library’s interest.
In conclusion, Mr. Rubino said the departments did a good job of providing quality request.
“These are not set in stone,” he added. “We cannot approve all the 2020 requests.” More likely the range of projects to be approved are between $4 million and $4.5 million for next year.
The next steps in the capital budget process includes completing the final recommendations for next year, identifying funding and presenting a proposed budget next month.