After the second of four scheduled focus group meetings Tuesday night, City Manager Dana Foster said it is too soon to tell whether Brighton residents would support a bond issue to fund capital improvements in the community on the November ballot.
The focus group meetings are what Foster calls the second phase, after holding general meetings last summer and fall. The purpose of the meetings is to get recommendations from residents on what the most critical improvements needed within the city and the best way to fund the improvements.
The suggestion to explore a bond issue comes from a Citizen's Advisory Task Force that was created to work with city staff to identify areas needing improvement and to make recommendations on the most important priorities to receive funding from existing or future available sources.
The task force identified more than $9 million needed to fund critical improvements such as residential curb and gutter repairs/additions to areas on State Street, between 7th and 3rd Streets and Chestnut, between 5th and 4th Streets. Other improvements include Oak Ridge area street reconstructions, sidewalk repairs, Ricket Road force main and water main replacements and more.
The task force's recommendation is for the city to move forward with a long-term bond financing proposal after the City's current Street Improvements Bond Issue is retired later this year.
Foster said that there are several possibilities for action. One is obtaining a bond of $5.6 million that would be issued in two phases, the first of which would be receiving $2.5 million in 2013 and then another $3.1 million in 2015. Splitting the money into two phases would ensure that the current millage rate does not increase.
However, Foster also said the City Council members have the option to do nothing. After the last payment is made on the current bond, the millage rate would drop about 1 mil and residents could see a tax break.
Brighton resident Mary Holliday said that if a bond issue is put on the November ballot, she would like to see provisions for maintaining the Mill Pond.
"The Mill Pond is the heart and soul of the whole city," Holliday said. "I'm a photographer and it was just terrible this past summer. They cut down the number of treatments from six to two. I would like to see it kept clean and pure."
Brighton business owner Scott Griffith said he was concerned that the majority of improvements would be to residential areas.
"All the businesses, they're non-homestead so they pay a higher tax bill anyway," Griffith said. "If they're getting hit with a higher tax bill - if nothing else it puts pressure on the city to prove why this is a better place to do business. All those areas that you've identified are not in a commercial district, so all of this money is being spent in an area that doesn't impact those individuals. So they are going to ask why their tax bills are going up - quote, unquote - but their services are staying the same."
Foster said he has seen several common themes emerging from both focus group meetings.
"People are telling us to concentrate and focus on core infrastructure - whether it's the streets, gutters and curbs or sidewalks," Foster said. "One thing that kind of surpised me is that I've been hearing more of an emphasis on sidewalks - not only in sidewalk repairs and to fill in the sidewalk gaps."
Foster said he was also surprised by the number of attendees giving suggestions on how to word the possible proposal.
"There seems to be more of an assumption in the room that this is going to the voters and here are certain things we think you ought to say or not say," he said. "And that's good. It surprised me that a good number of attendees had already jumped that far ahead because I'm up here focusing on the basics."
Foster said he hopes to present the information he gathers from the focus group meetings to City Council members during one of its meetings in February.
"I want to have it discussed before March so that City Council can consider the findings during the budget work sessions in March and April," Foster said.
The next focus group meetings are scheduled for Jan. 24 and Jan. 30 at 6:30 p.m. in the A/B meeting room at the Brighton District Library. For more information, www.brightoncity.org.