City could borrow road money

Published 11:22 pm Friday, December 12, 2008

Suffolk would consider putting up $134.9 million of its own money to pay for transportation improvements if the City Council approves an early draft of the city’s 10-year capital improvements plan.

The document, released this week, proposes borrowing $134.9 million through general obligation bonds to help finance road projects throughout the city. One of those projects is the proposed widening of Holland Road, which is crucial to the development of the proposed CenterPoint project west of the bypass.

The Capital Improvements Plan covers a 10-year range of projects — including buildings, road improvements, fire stations and more — that the city anticipates needing. Only the first year of the plan is included in the budget for that fiscal year.

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Borrowing money to fund road projects is a common practice, said Budget Officer Anne Seward.

“It’s not a new concept to the city,” she said. “It’s something we’ve done before.”

The Planning Commission and City Council still must approve the plan before it is adopted. The commission will discuss the plan at its meeting Tuesday.

At the Dec. 3 council meeting, Public Works Director Eric Nielsen warned council members that continued funding from the Virginia Department of Transportation for new construction projects is uncertain.

“We just know that we have to begin addressing these transportation issues,” Seward said. “We start with the CIP.”

If the plan is approved, the city will sell $400,000 worth of general obligation bonds next year. If the plan were then fully budgeted, the city would then sell $134.9 million worth of the bonds during the next 10 years.

The bonds will be paid back over the next 20 years using general property taxes, which includes real estate, personal property and meals taxes.

The transportation plan also has proposed funding of cash transfers from the general fund and road maintenance fund, and funding from the state.

“There’s all kinds of sources that come together,” Seward said.

Another Suffolk transportation issue, the Kings Highway Bridge, has tentative funding during the last five years of the plan, although Seward isn’t sure where the money would come from.

“We know that it will require a partnership,” she said. “We’re hoping we can partner with the state or federal government.”

In addition, the draft plan includes a recommendation to build one combined school to replace the dilapidated Southwestern and Robertson elementary schools to serve students in the southern end of the city. For more information, see story on page 1A.