State College Borough Council starts 2014 budget review

Some Borough Council members agreed this week that the borough should up its contribution to the State Theatre to help with the organization’s push for support.

The discussion on Monday was part of the council’s first 2014 proposed budget review day. The budgets receiving the most comments were miscellaneous, under which some charitable donations fall, and capital improvement projects, carried over from the previously approved Capital Improvement Plan.

The council continued its budget review Wednesday and will do so again next Tuesday. A public hearing is set for Dec. 2, a wrap-up review session is set for Dec. 9 and final adoption for the $23.4 million spending blueprint is set for Dec. 16.

Under the miscellaneous section, the borough has budgeted $109,500 as follows — $75,000 to the Downtown State College Improvement District for items like marketing and security, $20,000 to First Night, $2,500 to 4th Fest, $2,000 to the State Theatre and $5,000 for other potential uses.

Councilman Ron Filippelli proposed increasing the State Theatre contribution based on a letter he received indicating that it’s in “serious financial trouble.”

“Any little bit that we can do to indicate our support would be, probably, welcome,” he said.

While State Theatre Director Richard Biever agreed with that, he said there’s nothing in particular that has happened recently and that the doors won’t be padlocked anytime soon. However, the organization is pushing for donations to lessen its debt load — about $800,000 from renovations and a line of credit.

“There’s a big push to get out from under that; kind of free ourselves,” Biever said. “We do need help. We need support above and beyond people buying tickets to see shows.”

As such, Filippelli and Peter Morris supported raising that contribution to $10,000. Morris said that although First Night “is a good friend of mine,” the borough could, perhaps, lower that contribution to $12,000.

Councilwoman Cathy Dauler disagreed with that, saying that amount already was reduced previously and shouldn’t be lowered further.

“The State Theatre contributes mightily to our town,” Mayor Elizabeth Goreham added.

Councilman Tom Daubert suggested that Biever come speak to the council and give members more information before the final budget vote.

The capital improvements budget shows 29 projects for about $17.2 million. About half of that is for the new public works facility on Osmond Street, at $8.8 million.

Other projects include $50,000 to update the strategic plan, a $50,000 donation to Discovery Space of Central Pennsylvania, a $28,000 police motorcycle and nearly $1.7 million for Atherton Street improvements.

Daubert took issue with some of the project costs, including the update to the 2009 strategic plan.

“Fifty thousand dollars for a consultant, when the last consultant didn’t do very well, from what I hear,” said Daubert, who wasn’t on the council when the last plan was approved.

Daubert also complained about the $90,000 price tag on the Fraser Street public space, left when the street was realigned at Beaver Avenue. Those funds are expected to finalize a design for the space and put it out to bid.

“That doesn’t put one brick down, it doesn’t put one chair down,” he said. “Why do we need $90,000 to do a plan?”

He also was concerned about $335,000 for infrastructure improvements recommended in the downtown master plan. The borough’s Capital Improvement Plan listed possible improvements to include new traffic signal poles, signs, and sidewalk and crosswalk treatments.

Finally, Daubert questioned the $775,000 scheduled for the Pugh Street project that will add a turn lane into the parking garage and onto Beaver Avenue, plant trees and more. His concern was more with the timing, because the borough plans to take the garage down around 2018, when it is expected to reach the end of its useful life, and place a new garage elsewhere.

“You cannot tell me we do all that work on Pugh Street and then we tear down a five-story structure and don’t ruin what we did,” he said. “It’s a waste of money at this time.”

Filippelli agreed with Daubert’s Pugh Street concerns, but Public Works Director Mark Whitfield said “virtually nothing” would be done along the curb near the garage.

“But the Pugh Street surface is in pretty bad shape,” Whitfield said. “For a downtown street, it needs to be upgraded. While we’re in there, we should do what we can.”