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Meinecke funding didn't add up, dollars found by deferring projects

June 4, 2012

Future storm and sanitary sewer projects likely will take longer to complete because money allocated for that work is needed now to pay for the Meinecke Avenue neighborhood flood mitigation project.

The city is ripping out old and ill-functioning storm and sanitary sewer mains and replacing them with larger ones. Water mains, the street, sidewalk and traffic and street lights will all be replaced as well as part of this $14.4 million project.

The project is $5.1 million short in funding, and the solution settled upon earlier — to use $3.1 million from storm and sanitary sewer reserves as well as money leftover from past projects that came in under budget — just won’t work, it was realized last week.

Questions posed by aldermen during a discussion about the funding gap caused city staff members to crunch the numbers again and determine there isn’t enough surplus money in the reserves.

This year the city switched to a new way of budgeting for capital projects, City Administrator James Archambo said. In the past, projects were smaller and budgeted to occur from design to complete construction within a year. They were accounted for manually by the departments involved.

With massive projects coming up that will be in the works for more than a year, new financial software was needed to tie together all the parts.

“We need a vastly more sophisticated tool than we needed in the past; Meinecke is the perfect example,” Archambo said.

The error occurred because the Meinecke project has been in the planning stages for so long that it was caught between the old method and new one. Going forward, the new system should “mitigate human error,” he said.

The city still needs the same amount of money to bridge the funding gap, Finance Director John Ruggini said. But less of that money can come from reserves than originally planned.

About $2.1 million will be tapped from that account. To make up the difference, $400,000 will come from 2011 projects that were under budget and $950,000 could come from money planned for the future East Tosa flood relief project.

Since the East Tosa project is so large, it’s likely the project could be drawn out and those dollars could be budgeted for 2017-18.

“Best case scenario: This is a $100 million capital plan. If anything comes in under budget those dollars would be directed back (to the East Tosa funding),” Ruggini said. 

As for sanitary sewer, instead of $754,000 from reserves, $144,805 will be used. Money to upgrade bypass pumps will be moved up for 2013 and money will be taken from a flood mitigation project for the area around City Hall south to the Menomonee River.

The design work hasn’t started on the City Hall South project because testing is still under way, Ruggini said.

A neighborhood meeting on the details of the Meinecke project is being held today at 7 p.m. at City Hall.

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