Boat ramps, bike lanes, road lighting in works as West Palm pours millions into projects

WEST PALM BEACH — While eyes frequently look up to the $2 billion in offices, hotels and apartments sprouting in West Palm Beach, the city itself completes dozens of projects at ground level every year that arguably have as much impact on everyday citizens.

These range from boat ramps to bicycle lanes, road widenings, playgrounds and other park improvements, water main replacements and culvert repairs.

According to Kevin Volbrecht, West Palm’s director of engineering services, this fiscal year the city has completed 26 projects, valued at $21.5 million. Another 34 projects, costing $22.3 million, are scheduled for completion completed by October.

Yet another 74 projects, costing $143 million are lined up for 2020 and a few years beyond. That puts the total at just under $200 million of capital improvement projects.

There are new bike lanes on Lake Avenue and Cumberland Drive, designated with striping and striped plastic “zebra” bumpers meant to ward off wayward cars.

Currie Park’s boat ramps reopened on Memorial Day with all new docks for the busy facility. Mary Brandon Park got a new playground installation, and improvements also came to Blum Park, near Northwood Village; Sunset Park, at North Australian Boulevard and 36th Street; and Village Paws Parks, a dog park off Saratoga Road.

Cool heads can prevail at the police department, because it got new air conditioning chillers. The Fire Rescue Department got a new Station No. 8.

A section of Olive Avenue was widened, Edgewood Drive, traffic-calmed.

Culverts were repaired and water mains, replaced. Pamela Lane, in the South End, got pedestrian lighting.

Perhaps the most visible project downtown: Clematis Streets 300 block got a new curb-less, plaza-like look, with more room for pedestrians and sidewalk dining. The 200 and 100 blocks, leading to the waterfront, are getting similar treatment now. The 500 block between the Brightline tracks and Rosemary Avenue, are scheduled for next spring. (That project is funded by the city’s Community Redevelopment Agency, which gets its money from downtown taxpayers, not from the city’s general fund.)

As the city begins the annual process of crafting next year’s budget, still more projects vie for attention. Department heads have submitted requests for many projects for which no funding source has been identified yet.

“These are some new recipes they’d like to try out for next year but I’m not so sure we’re going to have space on the stove to do that,” Voldebrecht said.

Police, for example, have requested new SUV’s to replace older sedans, a SWAT team vehicle, security camera replacements, an incident command vehicle, bomb robots and an evidence destruction trailer. The library has been asking for new carpets and furniture for a few years. For transportation needs, there have been requests for downtown trolley shelters, Palm Beach Lakes services road improvements, Northmore neighborhood bike facilities and 25th Street improvements.

These kinds of capital projects are paid from a variety of sources: sales tax, gas tax, grants, a public works bond and fire assessments, to name a few.

The city has lists of many other projects as well, stretching out five years or more into the future. The city recently undertook a study to help prioritize where street lighting needs upgrades around the city, for example. Other projects are undertaken separately by the Community Redevelopment Agency.

The discussion of projects came up Monday at a city commission work session on the city’s 10-year financial plan.

The city’s current status is strong, particularly as real estate values have continued to rise, adding to the city’s property tax revenues, Finance Director Mark Parks told the board.

The current value of West Palm Beach property is estimated at $13.6 billion, up nearly $900,000 since last year. Based on that, the city expects $81.9 million in property taxes alone, up from $51.2 million in the 2012-2013 fiscal year, Parks said.

The more ominous news is that bond market activity indicates the nation could be in for a recession in mid-2020, he said. That could slow the city’s ability to continue playing catch-up with projects delayed by the previous recession.

So as the coming year’s budget is assembled, department heads are being asked to look for efficiencies, and for ways to use new technology to boost revenues and cut expenses, Parks said. “This year is going to be very critical for how we budget and how we plan.”

tdoris@pbpost.com

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