Local Government and Politics, News

Lynn’s five-year capital improvement plan outlined

LYNN — The city of Lynn would spend nearly $231 million on capital projects over the next five years under a plan outlined for the City Council on Tuesday night. The bulk of that spending would be devoted to the potential construction of two new middle schools.

The city’s capital improvement plan for fiscal year 2020 to FY 2024 was presented by representatives from the Edward J. Collins Center at the University of Massachusetts Boston, the agency enlisted by the city to develop the document.

The plan prioritizes putting the city on a course toward stronger financial footing, investing in basic infrastructure needs, beginning to address the space and overcrowding issues at Lynn Public Schools, and spurring economic development in the downtown and waterfront through strategic capital projects.

Mayor Thomas M. McGee has partly attributed what he called the city’s “very low bond rating,” which describes its credit worthiness to borrowers and investors, to the city’s lack of capital investment, inability to invest in infrastructure and lack of a capital plan.

The bulk of the plan’s spending, or 70 percent of the $230.9 million, which includes 36 projects, is devoted to school capital needs. The plan was whittled down from 265 requests submitted by city department heads, totaling $587.5 million in capital needs.

“I think it lays out a breadth and depth of substantial investment that we can make as a city,” McGee said. “I think it does put a roadmap together of how we can start to move forward.”

Of the four projects planned for the school department, $200 million accounts for two new middle school buildings, a new Pickering and another West Lynn school, which would be dependent upon approval from the Massachusetts School Building Authority and would have an estimated 70 percent state reimbursement.

The plan outlines that the nearly $231 million in spending would be comprised of $73 million of local taxpayer dollars, or city funds, and the remaining $157.9 million would come from the city pursuing non-local funds, or state grant programs.

Most of that state share would come from MSBA reimbursement for the two new middle schools, with another major source from Chapter 90 funds for capital and infrastructure improvements, according to Sarah Concannon, government services specialist at the Collins Center.

The Department of Public Works has the highest number of projects with 10 for a total cost of $22.5 million, but Concannon said about 60 percent of that would be from state funds, with the city picking up the remainder of the tab.

The city has seen a significant drop in capital investment over the past three years, which should be stable in a community. Its investment in capital is pretty low compared to other municipalities, according to Anthony Torrisi, an associate at the Collins Center, who attributed the lack of capital investment to the city’s struggle to balance its budget in recent years.

The plan’s capital investment strategy would increase the percentage of the city’s budget devoted to capital needs each year until it reaches 3.5 percent in FY 2031, on par with what it’s been in the past. In FY 2017, the city invested 3.1 percent of its budget to capital needs.

The Collins Center also recommended a capital stabilization fund, which would be established by the City Council. The reserve fund would be comprised of money set aside that would be available for future capital needs.

Sean Cronin, senior deputy commissioner of local services for the Department of Revenue, who oversees the city’s budget, called the plan a great proposal.

He said the $231 million investment outlined may seem daunting, as the city had to borrow $14 million from the state to balance its budget for the last two years, but it’s a plan that’s financed over time.

“It’s going to require discipline,” Cronin said, citing the practice of putting money aside in the stabilization fund for future capital needs rather than spending it.

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