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Too Many Projects

City must cut capital spending or face same problems next year.


From the beginning of the budget process, the City Council's Capital Improvement (CIP) Committee chair Myron Lowery was asking, "What can be cut?" By the end, the council had trimmed $27 million, or 10 percent, from the mayor's original CIP budget.

While both the CIP and operating budgets for fiscal year 2006 have been approved, financial constraints still loom large.

"We've got too many city projects on the table, and [the city] doesn't have the infrastructure to carry them out," said Lowery. "The administration must cut back on some projects."

One project on the potential chopping block is the MATA light rail system. Through a series of close votes, the $280 million project survived for consideration next year.

While reports on the project were thorough, council member Carol Chumney sent out her own press release, detailing how light rail could decrease the car-rental tax payments that support repayment of arena bonds.

"If the car-rental tax collections decrease, then will city and county taxpayers be on the line for the deficiency?" she asked. "What are the actual projections of ridership for the airport/downtown light rail project, and do we really need it?"

The MATA information joined a series of releases Chumney sent out during budget hearings addressing everything from her votes on riverfront development to the city's bond rating.

"These are issues that the public should be made aware of," she said. "It is also to make sure that the media is aware of what happens in meetings and to take ownership of my ideas."

When The Commercial Appeal published a story detailing Lowery's CIP concerns, Chumney issued a correction, saying she had been the one concerned about the large amount of CIP expenditures.

"The logic [of Chumney's MATA] release says that everybody renting cars goes downtown," said Lowery. "You've got to take with a grain of salt these things that don't make sense."

To balance the budget, Lowery's committee voted to delay several projects, pushing their start dates and funding requirements beyond fiscal year 2006: a fix for this year, but still a problem for the future.

Currently, Lowery is leaning toward the sentiments of Chumney and other council members who have wanted to veto projects such as the light rail, riverfront development, and construction of a 911 facility.

"Sometimes you can have a knee-jerk reaction to things, but you can deal with issues when they arise," Lowery said. "The misconception has been that because we delayed some projects they were automatically approved, and that is not true. Each of those projects has to come before this council again and be voted on." 

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