With Board of Finance action Wednesday, voters will almost certainly have the chance to vote on four capital projects this November.
The four projects are ones a capital projects study committee recommended for bonding earlier this year. The finance board did scale back each project to some degree. In addition, at the suggestion of the town's bond counsel, the proposals were realigned somewhat. Changes to the high school parking lot, for example, were once again incorporated into a proposal for a new track and field since the projects are inter-related.
The projects as voted on are:
- A new town garage and related land acquisition and site work — $6.75 million
- Pavement management (road work) — $6 million
- Partial roof repair and replacement at the Community Center and all three schools — $3.2 Million
- High School track and field project, including parking lot changes and improvements — $3.6 Million
"I'm glad the community will have the opportunity to consider all four projects," said Board of Education chairwoman Beth Kandrysawtz.
The decisions came near the end of a nearly four-hour meeting.
Some members of the public spoke about Mills Pond Pool during the public comment, hoping replacement or improvements could be added for bonding. Finance board chairman Richard Ohanesian said the project had not been referred to the board and could not be added by its members. (More of the pool will be written in a separate story).
Kevin Jackson, chairman of the economic development agency, discussed the pool but also other amenities like the track and field project.
Like a few other speakers he said such projects are economic generators that help attract people and businesses to town.
He also said his agency was working on some projects that could help grow the grand list and help ease the burden to taxpayers.
Finance board member Brian First later said he agreed Grand List growth is needed but that the board could not speculate about it and had seen very little in the past few years.
After several questions on each project, finance board members debated some of the aspects, the figures and what they should put before the town.
Most agreed that sending more than $20 million and as much as $23 million to voters would be too much.
“I don’t believe the citizens of this town are going to pas a $23 million bond,” member Ken Humphrey said.
The board then held considerable discussion on how much to trim out of the projects but only hinted at eliminating any.
Before the finance board adjusted the amount, member Bill Canny said he felt some of the projects still came in too high. He echoed a thought by a few other members that the town should have gotten more companies to give estimates.
“Some of these numbers seem a little too inflated,” he said. “It just doesn’t seem like we took enough time to outsource to different vendors.”
Chief Administrative Officer Robert Skinner said projects will still involve a competitive bid process and in some cases, such as roadwork would include some work from the town.
Some of the projects, such as the roofs, will also qualify for some federal reimbursement.
During the discussion first selectman Richard Barlow spoke against lowering the garage to $6.5 million, a suggestion by First based upon a design-build firm’s estimate that it could build it for as low as that.
Barlow said he didn’t want to see the roads figure lowered but would accept that over further garage cuts.
He said the facility is inadequate, presents some dangers to the work crew and said decreasing the size a little from 19,000 square feet would not save much.
“If we’re going to do thing let’s do things, let’s do them correctly,” he said.
Finance board member Mary Tomolonius said she still had a hard time accepting the price tag, even with the site acquisition and work included in it.
“I find it hard to believe we would spend more in site and acquisition costs than the cost of the building,” she said. “That’s staggering.”
Finance board member Richard Eickenhorst said the board should not change projects too deeply.
“Pretty soon you start negating the whole reason for going through this exercise,” he said. "Backing off what we want to accomplish is short sided."
The board trimmed the track and field project by $500,000 and some items such as the scoreboard, bleachers and light poles and lights would likely come from fundraising or other means should voters approve it in November.
The roofs project was also scaled back to its original amount, putting off doing an additional section of the roof on Cherry Brook that is nearing the end of its life span and concentrating on parts already "in failure."
The totals also account for an estimated $110,000 in fees related to taking out two different municipal bonds, which the town sells to borrow funds.
Thursday night the Board of Selectmen will meet to set the questions for the November referendum on Election Day. While some selectmen recently advocated for one ballot question, officials said Wednesday night that the town's bond attorney has stated they need to be separate.
First Selectman Richard Barlow said Wednesday he might look a little further into the issue since several towns have recently presented multiple projects as a package.
With the changes Wednesday, the town did not have immediate figures for the tax impact of the projects.
Further meeting and hearings will also be scheduled to offer the public more information and chances to comment before the referendum/election.