The Fremont City Council had a special meeting on Tuesday to discuss large capital projects as part of ongoing conversations regarding the upcoming biennial budget.
During the meeting, council members were asked to rank what they believed to be the most important of 14 capital projects submitted for consideration by city staff.
Projects listed for consideration included the construction of a joint law enforcement center, new Splash Station feature and neighborhood pool.
Several multimillion-dollar road reconstruction projects are also included in the list of potential projects.
Each council member was given 10 stickers to rank the projects based on priority or urgency.
“Because of the size of the project and the size of the ask, we thought it was appropriate to defer to council in terms of, obviously we can’t possibly do all these projects in one year, but we’re looking for some help and direction in what council views as our top priorities,” Finance Director Jody Sanders said.
The list of projects did not include a new fire station or expansion of the existing fire station. Sanders said the reason for that project’s absence is due to an ongoing study regarding the future of the Fremont Fire Department.
“The notion was that we wouldn’t have a study back in time,” she said. “Once that study that’s already been commissioned comes back, we might look at either amending a budget or look at doing something in the next two-year budget cycle.”
Councilmember Glen Ellis said he would not participate in the exercise, saying the decision to bring forward the list of projects without prior council or citizen input was “extremely frustrating.”
Ellis pointed to issues he believed to be top of mind among Fremont citizens, including the future of the fire department and efforts to set aside funds to examine drainage in Fremont.
“I’m really frustrated that this was generated with no council input and without citizens’ input,” he said.
City Administrator Brian Newton said the reason stormwater studies are not included in the list of projects is because those funds are not tied to the city’s capital projects.
Once a stormwater survey is completed for the city, Newton said recommendations could come back to the council. That process would likely take around two years, he said.
At that time, Newton said there is a chance the city could use its COVID-19 funds to pay for stormwater projects.
“We don’t know what’s going to be the biggest bang for the buck,” he said. “Let’s wait until we get a stormwater study done first.”
Mayor Joey Spellerberg said the point of the discussion was to garner council feedback on capital projects that have already been laid out.
“The prioritization tonight is not the end-all, be-all,” he said. “We can’t do everything.”
He said issues like stormwater drainage are important for the city to address. That was evidenced by more than four inches of rain that struck Fremont during John C. Fremont Days last weekend.
However, he said that project simply doesn’t fall in line with the city’s capital improvement plans at the moment.
“What I’m hearing out is public safety and infrastructure and these projects are identifying the ways we can improve public safety and infrastructure.”
He said council will consider issues like the future of the fire department and stormwater drainage once those studies are completed, but it must focus on the budget process as it stands right now.
“All we’re asking council tonight is to just make some priorities,” he said.
Councilmember Brad Yerger said he had “deep concerns” with the lack of opportunity for council member and public input regarding which projects should be prioritized in the first place.
“I’m equally concerned that we’re voting for popularity of the projects that were put on this list when we, the council, didn’t add or have a chance to add or substitute things on this list,” he said. “... So I’m concerned about the approach we’re taking.”
Sanders said the exercise is doing nothing more than providing long-range planning for the city during the next several years.
“It doesn’t have to be something that we’re going to do first and second,” she said.
Sanders added that the exercise helps her visualize a roadmap to laying out revenue projects that will ultimately help the city accomplish its larger projects.
“If you choose not to vote, the presumption is you don’t think any of these are important projects and we go back to the capital improvement plan and present it as the individual staff has provided to you,” she said. “I’m doing my best to try and communicate and make this a two-way street and boycotting doesn’t help that process.”
Councilmember Michael Kuhns said council members need to look at the exercise as an opportunity to share input and “get the ball rolling” on projects that each council member believes is important to them.
“I think this is an opportunity for us to go together to kind of see where we want to build from here,” he said. “Sure, there are other things that should be on here and what’s what we can go over later on.”