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City prioritizing projects

Press Photo by Lisa Call Dickinson Mayor Dennis Johnson speaks during a Special City Commission meeting at City Hall, Tuesday afternoon.

Working ahead of schedule, city officials began hammering out capital improvement project priorities Tuesday afternoon at Dickinson's City Hall, and atop the list is an overhaul of the wastewater treatment facility along with a new medical facility.

"There's going to be tremendous demands for our funding sources," said Mayor Dennis Johnson. "It's going to be a challenging budget session."

Since Dickinson could be at a pivotal point in its growth, city officials started the pre-budget process ahead of their normal June/July schedule and about 19 big-ticket projects were brought to the table for the 2011 capital improvement project pre-budget.

Among the proposed items for capital improvement projects are land acquisition for landfill expansion, a new public works building, an outdoor public swimming pool, a new wastewater treatment facility, an animal shelter, an outdoor firing range and a fire department substation.

City Administrator Shawn Kessel said while Catholic Health Initiatives, St. Joseph's Hospital and Health Center's parent company, is in talks of constructing a new facility, the city would look at adding a clinic or medical office building at the site.

"That building would potentially hold our clinics in town," Kessel said. "The object being that all those staff would be relocated into this building."

With a preliminary price tag of about $13 million, if approved, the project would take place in about four to five years.

Kessel said a potential financing mechanism could be to provide the construction money up front, with a repayment then occurring over a period of time.

West River Community Center is also on the budget list with a remaining balance of $3.1 million. The final bond payment will be in December 2012.

The Badlands Activities Center is on the budget with $4.2 million remaining, scheduled to be paid off over four years.

With high amounts of development and growth being proposed, Johnson said the city needs to start looking toward a multi-year budget plan.

"What we're going to try to do is develop a funding plan for the priorities and then refine the revenue options," Kessel said.

Funding options for capital improvements can come from several sources, including hospitality tax, the general and enterprise funds, occupancy tax, 1 percent sales tax and a .5 percent sales tax funds.

The city's general fund will be under cost pressure due to increased pension contributions, rising health insurance premiums, additional staffing needs and capital costs, according to city information.

Major infrastructure projects will place increased cost pressures on city enterprise funds.

While no future meeting date has been set, Kessel said the city hopes to have the capital improvement budget and project list more refined by July.

"We may have another meeting between now and July, just to make sure we're going in the right direction," Kessel said.