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Nearly $300 million budgeted in Ames’ five-year capital improvements plan

Ames+City+Manager+Steven+Schainker+listens+to+a+concerned+citizen+on+Jan.+24.+
Jacob Rice
Ames City Manager Steven Schainker listens to a concerned citizen on Jan. 24.

Ames City Manager Steve Schainker was the first of numerous city staff to present on the $294.8 million in expenditures proposed within the FY 2024/25 through FY 2028/29 Capital Improvements Plan (CIP), which he themed “catch up.”

Schainker said there are “a lot” of projects yet to be completed from the current CIP and the city is facing rising costs and delays in receiving equipment among other things, impacting current and future projects.

Ward 2 Rep. Tim Gartin said during council comments at the conclusion of the meeting that it was “super exciting.”

“This is one of the most important parts of the year. Great projects, we’re a city on the move,” Gartin said. “There are a lot of cities that are just status quo. They’re just trying to keep the lights on. We’re doing great projects.”

Gartin also weighed in on what cuts to federal spending would mean for Ames.

“Cities’ budgets are highly dependent upon the federal budget,” Gartin said. “So if there was ever any kind of major pullback on federal spending for cities, we are in big trouble.”

Mayor John Haila said he did not disagree with Gartin but added Ames is “self-sufficient in terms of operations.”

“I don’t want to necessarily have this dire forecast that if the federal government goes, you know, haywire, that we’re going to go haywire because there’s a lot of self-sufficiency,” Haila said.

Tuesday’s workshop meeting meant no decisions or public input took place. The council will make final decisions on the plan in February and public input will open during the council’s next regular meeting on Jan. 23.

Utilities – $138.4 million

This part of the CIP accounts for projects regarding electric, water, sanitary sewer, stormwater and resource recovery utilities.

According to the plan, the nutrient reduction modification would be the most costly project in city history, at over an estimated $110 million.

“Unfortunately, given the increase in interest rates required to debt finance this conversion, the estimated cost has increased from the $77.9 million total reflected in the previous CIP,” the plan states.

The city facility must undergo modifications, as its water pollution control plant discharge permit issued by the Iowa DNR requires it. The CIP shows the city is budgeting over $25 million toward the project in FY 2024/25.

Transportation – $124.2 million

The city’s second-largest expenditure within the CIP is transportation, over 60% of which goes toward street and traffic flow improvements.

One of two projects receiving funds in the upcoming fiscal year is roadway widening at S 16th Street from two to four lanes between University Boulevard and Apple Place. The project also includes turn lanes and traffic control improvements at Christensen Drive and South Riverside Drive.

“This is an institutional road and therefore not technically our responsibility, but a lot of the pressure that’s being placed to widen it is because we extended Grand Ave. down,” Schainker told the council Tuesday.

The longest-tenured city manager in Iowa also said it’s “very unusual” for the city to pay for an institutional road but he believes in this “one case” the city should.

Additionally, the city plans to improve the intersection of 13th Street and Grand Avenue. Ames Public Works Director John Joiner said this upcoming fiscal year the plan calls for preliminary design and right-of-way evaluation.

Culture and Recreation – $28.2 million

Almost the entirety of the culture and recreation CIP budget is planned to go to Ames’ parks. The largest expenditure is over $20 million toward the Fitch Family Indoor Aquatics Center which the city has already spent over $10 million on.

Other projects receiving money in the upcoming fiscal year include the Daley Park splash pad, Ada Hayden Heritage Park south lake trail path replacement, Americans with Disabilities Act improvements and playground replacement at Patio Homes West Park.

Public Safety – $2.7 million

Ames Fire Chief Rich Higgins presented on several projects including replacing Fire Engine #2, the addition of a fire engine and improvements to a station alerting system. Public safety has no projects budgeted for the upcoming fiscal year.

Other Projects – $1.3 million

This includes projects under community development and general government like the Neighborhood Improvement program and improvements at City Hall.

Currently Excluded Projects

A letter from Schainker at the beginning of the plan lists five projects that are not included in the plan and may require a public referendum.
Those projects are:
A new animal shelter
Relocating Fire Station #2
A new fire station
An indoor recreation center
Developing Ontario Park

Schainker told the council Tuesday that the top two priorities are the two existing buildings.

“The animal control shelter is an existing building that is not only overcrowded but probably inadequate for the services we provide,” Schainker said. “The second one – is an existing building – the fire station.”

Schainker added that the fire station needs to be relocated for safety purposes due to driving emergency vehicles in a “compacted area” and because relocation would improve response times.

According to previous reporting by the Daily, all five projects were also listed but remained excluded from the current CIP.

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Jacob Rice, Visual Editor
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