DOT's money woes won't stop Youngsville's Main Street Improvement project
YOUNGSVILLE -- Commissioners agreed to move forward with plans to improve the downtown through a process that would require the town to front funds they wouldn't get back for at least a year.
It's a gamble the majority of the board was willing to make.
Since 2016, the town has planned to do a Main Street Improvements Project, which, among other things, includes plans to improve modality through downtown with sidewalks and crosswalks, coupled with a plan to repave the road and redo curbs and gutters.
State and federal funding is slated to cover 90 percent of the $800,000 to $900,000 project, but it was put on hold when the state Department of Transportation realized cash flow problems in the summer of 2019.
In the spring, DOT expected a $300 million shortfall because of a COVID-19-related reduction in driving -- their revenue comes from Motor Fuels Tax, Highway Use Tax and DMV fees, all of which took a hit.
Because of those funding problems, DOT postponed all locally administered projects, Town Administrator Phil Cordeiro told commissioners during the board's June 11 meeting.
However, after a conversation with representatives with the Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization -- which helps coordinate traffic projects -- Cordeiro said he learned that DOT might be willing to let projects proceed as long as municipalities agreed to defer reimbursement for up to 18 months.
That would mean that the town would have to pull the money from its general fund -- which currently sits at about $1.7 million, Cordeiro said.
"... My recommendation would be that we do agree to defer reimbursement just because I know you all really want that project and we've already done engineering and we've got temporary construction easements from people downtown," Cordeiro said of the benefits of expediting the project.
Commissioner Larry Wiggins, though, had some heartburn with the prospect of putting up town money, even if there was an agreement to get it reimbursed.
"... I think it's a little bit shaky to be spending money that we might not get back," he said.
"... It's not that we won't get it back," he said. "It's just a matter of when.
"... In order for us to sign on to any agreement, it would have to state that we would get reimbursed.
"Also, this isn't state money, it's federal money," he said. "It's federal money that's distributed from the federal highway administration to DOT and then to the town.
"The problem is that when the town spends the money, we pay our contractors and then the town applies for reimbursement from DOT.
"They reimburse us and then, they, in turn, apply for reimbursement from the federal government.
"But, each reimbursement process takes 30, to 90 to maybe 120 days.
"And the problem," Cordeiro said, "is the cash balance at DOT is so low that they would actually go below their statutorily required minimum cash balance and there's no way they can ... basically float $800,000.
"It's shocking to know that an organization as large as DOT can't do that, but, of course, they have to treat all of the municipalities that participate in this locally administered projects program similarly."
The fact that it's federal money didn't do much to assuage Wiggins, though.
"But, we also know the federal government doesn't have any money [either]," Wiggins said.
Mayor Fonzie Flowers, though, said it's a risk the town should take.
"I think from where we've been, where we started and kind of where we are ... we have not been kicking [this project] down the road," Flowers said. "It's always been extenuating factors that have kind of prohibited us from being able to do this.
"We were talking about this ... in May of last year with an idea that we were going to get started [last] September and then that got pushed to late winter and spring and, now, here we are.
"... Is it a little scary [to proceed]? Is it a little risky?
"I think it will certainly be a positive impact on the town if we move forward with main street revitalization."
Save for Wiggins, the board voted to direct Cordeiro to negotiate with DOT to begin the project with an agreement that DOT would reimburse the town by June 30, 2021.
Any final agreement with DOT will have to be brought back to town commissioners for approval.