By Wayne Schutsky GSN Managing Editor
Gilbert’s $477 million capital spending for the fiscal year beginning July 1 will fund several attention-grabbing park and public safety projects – but a new fountain for the Southeast Regional Library won’t be among them after a last-minute $1 million cut.
The bulk of funds, approximately $366 million, is allocated to projects carried over from previous years, with $111 million going toward new projects. Town Council on Thursday okayed the plan in a 6-1 vote with Jared Taylor casting the sole dissent.
Notable projects include the first phases for both Gilbert Regional Park and Rittenhouse District Park, which will get $18.4 million and $20.4 million, respectively.
The town also allocated almost $11 million toward improvements at Elliot District Park, formerly Big League Dreams.
The town held the groundbreaking for the Regional Park project on May 29, and construction should begin on the first phase – which will include a splash pad, tennis courts and playgrounds – this year, with an expected completion in 12 months.
The total cost for the Regional Park project – which will cover 272 acres at buildout and feature a lake, amphitheater and other amenities – is estimated at over $100 million.
Gilbert will hold the groundbreaking for Rittenhouse District Park on Wednesday, June 13. The sports-oriented park will feature two lighted fields, a playground and restrooms after the first phase and will have 13 fields when it is fully built out.
Construction on its first phase is expected to be completed by September 2019.
Gilbert’s forthcoming public safety training facility, which will be adjacent to Rittenhouse Park, also received capital funding of just over $5.7 million, which will cover the design phase.
The town plans to complete design on the training facility this year and will ask voters to approve funding for its construction. The total estimated cost is nearly $84 million.
“We are looking for voters for authorization on the construction piece, because it is more than we can finance through cash means at this time, but the need is more critical than we can wait on,” Budget Director Kelly Pfost said.
Beyond those eye-catching parks projects, the bulk of nearly $374 million in capital spending will be allocated to street, water system and wastewater improvements needed to accommodate Gilbert’s growth.
The town has allocated over $128 million for street improvements alone, including $22.5 million to widen Val Vista Drive to six lanes between Appleby and Riggs Roads with bike lanes, sidewalks and raised median and nearly $21 million to widen Germann Road to six lanes between Val Vista Drive and Gilbert Road.
“The majority of what is happening is for growth,” Pfost said. “We had about 1,600 residential family permits last year, and that is lots of new families that need” this infrastructure.
At the direction of the Town Council, staff removed $1 million in proposed capital spending to make an early payment of $1 million in 2008 GO bonds to save approximately $150,000 in interest.
With many projects already underway or under contract, staff was limited as to which projects could see budgets reduced or cut.
“This budget is tight, so it was difficult to find $1 million to cut, but we did our best to follow council’s direction” Pfost said.
Pfost said her department tried to choose projects that would see the least impact and still have some funding available.
The largest cut came to Southeast Regional Library Fountain project, which saw its $450,000, the bulk of its funds, cut.
The project would have included the complete replacement of mechanical and electrical components for the Spirit of Partnership Fountain, which pays tribute to Town of Gilbert and Salt River Project partnership that brought water to the town.
“If or when the council wants to move forward (on the fountain project), we will have to find other funding for that,” Pfost said.
The $19 million Heritage District parking garage project also had its budget reduced by $80,000. The reduction will not result in a tangible change in the project, though it will decrease the funds available in the event that unexpected expenses arise.
“We set our budget on best understanding of the project at the time,” Pfost said. “The budget gets tighter and tighter as we move forward, and this tightens the budget a bit more, so we hope that no surprises come up as project finishes.”
The Heritage Trail project and multiple park and trail signage projects also had their budgets reduced. The plan also reduces the funds to develop an American with Disabilities Act assessment and transition plan for town facilities by $125,000.