by ZACH KAYSER
The city of Winona’s Capital Improvement Program (CIP) is a spending proposal, more abstract than a formal budget. However, the CIP still gives insight into which things the city considers vitally important to address, and which things could apparently stand to wait a few more years. The needs and wants expressed by City Council members in reaction to the CIP help the city prepare for the budget-making process later in the year. This year’s CIP, for 2022, included about $24.5 million worth of projects — the largest amount in over a decade. However, that number is just an educated guess on the part of department heads, since actual price tags will vary based on the results of the bid process amid a fluctuating market.
Additionally, only a small fraction of that $24.5 million requires taxpayer dollars. At $2.56 million, this year’s CIP also includes the largest request for funding from general revenue (tax dollars) in a decade, slightly edging out 2019’s $2.2 million. Last year’s CIP proposed drawing $1.1 million from general revenue.
The CIP as an indicator of city priorities was pointedly discussed at a work session Monday, as City Council member Eileen Moeller said it reflected a disturbing apathy toward certain geographic areas of Winona. “I just am a little concerned that there seem to be particular areas of the city are considered and budgeted for, and there are areas and recreation spaces that seem to get little to no attention,” she said.
Specifically, the Dacota Street playground at Lake Park was removed, but no replacement was planned for at least three years, Moeller pointed out. Additionally, an entire softball field at Dacota Street would receive less funding ($90,000 in 2023) than replacing the pitcher’s mound at Gabrych Park ($110,000), she said.
In addition to council members opining about the city’s funding priorities, department heads also spoke in what were, in essence, pitches for funding. By far the largest was the Parks and Recreation Department, which had a total of $11 million in requested projects. About $6.3 million was in the CIP, funded through bonds, for the proposed new Winona Community Center intended to expand the existing East End Rec Center and replace the existing senior center. The Parks and Rec section of the CIP also included a requested $1.8 million for the Masonic Temple heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) upgrade. Parks and Rec head Chad Ubl said the situation in the building was serious, even as architects completed a preliminary walk-through of the space Friday. “If you walked up to the second floor, [you would] last about five minutes,” Ubl said. “It’s hot.”
A final budget estimate for the new HVAC system would be ready by the end of the month, Ubl said.
Another one of the largest total requests was the city motor pool. City staff wanted just under $1.46 million to replace portions of the city’s aging vehicle fleet in 2022. Some city-owned vehicles date back to the Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush administrations, but one of the Central Garage’s most pressing requests was to replace three relatively new police cruisers, representing a third of the total patrol car complement, for a projected $123,000. As Garage Superintendent Amy VanGuilder and Winona Police Department Chief Tom Williams explained, the cars have been proverbially rode hard and put away wet. Typically a number of them are replaced every other year. For their brief lifespan as city vehicles, they’re crucial, Williams said. “You look at them as cars, but they’re offices — for 27 people,” he said.
In terms of requests by the WPD itself, they included money for forensic software that can hack into suspect phones ($15,000 per year), funding for the nascent body camera program combined with vehicle-mounted cameras ($80,000 per year), and replacements for radios in the police cars which are no longer supported by the manufacturer ($25,000 per year).
The Central Fire Station is planned for either renovation or replacement depending on the will of the City Council and the results of an ongoing facility needs study. In this year’s CIP, $2 million is requested for 2024.