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Water features restoration likely after funding clarification

Posted at 5:41 PM, May 09, 2019
and last updated 2019-05-09 19:47:36-04

Long-promised repairs to the popular downtown attractions are on the council’s agenda.

The Water Garden and nearby Splash Fountain have been off since 2017 because the pump system for the attractions needs to be replaced.

Thursday, city council members learned they can spend Seawall Improvement Fund money on the water features because the Seawall Improvement Boundary includes areas connected to the Seawall without crossing a traffic lane.

Restoring the water features was one of a list of 11 projects city staff wants the Type A Board to consider spending the Seawall Improvement Fund on.

“We have to balance all the projects on that list, and all of them might not get funded,” said Type A Board member John Valls.  “I think the critical ones will, depending on the cost.”

Now that the city council knows it can spend this money on the water features, those will be one of the first projects addressed.

“Everybody wants it to work,” said Mayor Joe McComb of the water features.  “We’ve got a moral and ethical obligation, if not a legal obligation to honor the gift that was given to the community a number of years ago.”

So what other projects does the Type A Board consider critical?

“To ensure that the Seawall is stable, the erosion control is in place, and we have sustainability on the Seawall,” said Valls.

Voters approved a 25-year 1/8th percent sales tax for the seawall fund in 2000 for improvements, and to help pay off seawall improvement bonds.  That tax generates about $7 million a year, and as of last September, the fund had a balance of more than $39 million.

That leaves the city with another option; pay off the bond debt early, for close to $22 million in 2022, when the city can do so without penalty.

“There is enough funding in there to retire the debt, which is the main thing, and we have a significant amount left over to accomplish some of those projects,” said Valls.

When that debt is paid off, the tax ends.  With that in mind, the city is looking at a way to re-purpose the Seawall tax, and put it on the ballot either in 2020 or 2021.  The idea would be to move some or all of that 1/8th cent sales tax to go towards residential street repairs.

As for the water features, the Type A Board approved a plan last summer to repair and improve the Splash Fountain and the Water Garden.  That plan was turned down by the council last February, but it’s expected to go back on next week’s agenda.