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Board of Finance Expected to Make Decision on Proposed Bonding Package

If projects move forward, selectmen to discuss ballot question(s) Thursday evening.

Tonight the Board is expected to make a decision regarding a proposed bonding package that would go to voters in November.

Last week the Board of Selectmen voted to recommend the finance board consider four projects, at a cost of a little more than $20 million, for bonding. They are:

  • Partial roof replacement and repair at the Community Center and all three schools: $3 million
  • , including land acquisition and site work at 5 Cherry Brook Rd.: no more than $7 million
  • Multi-use track and field: $3.2 million
  • Pavement management program for road repairs: $7.5 million

In the meeting last week, selectmen voted to refer all four projects, recommended earlier this year by a Capital Projects Study Committee. With selectmen voting on each separately, three were unanimous with the track and field project passing 3-2. Steve Roberto and Lowell Humphrey voted against bringing it forward.

Roberto said he loves the idea but has concerns with the neighborhood impact as well as spending the money for the facility and ongoing maintenance in light of fiscally tight times and budgets.  

“I’d love to have a track but I don’t believe it’s a priority,” Roberto said.

Roberto also addressed numerous residents who came out in person last week and signed an online petition to add Mills Pond Pool replacement to the package. Many residents said with interest rates low, the time is right to replace the aging structure.

The town did address some short –term needs at the pool and is working toward the mid-range goals detailed in a recent study, Roberto said. He also said he doesn’t feel it’s the right time to redo the entire pool when residents ask the board to make fiscally sound decisions.

Roberto feels that rather than say what can be added, the town should instead say, “What needs to be done and how little can we spend.”

First Selectman Richard Barlow agrees the pool is not ready a project ready to move forward since questions remain and said the $2 million estimated in the study is not a direct replacement cost but the estimate for a smaller facility.

Barlow sees the track issue slightly differently, however. He said the four projects are what a study committee recommended – in two tiers – earlier this year. That group did list the pool and many other projects in their report as they prioritized needs, he said.

“I hope the public as a whole looks at the needs of the town,” he said.

The track and the garage projects have generated the most discussion and are listed as second-tier priorities in the study group’s report.

Barlow said the garage is long overdue as a replacement for the town's aging structure near the Farmington River. The public doesn’t see the conditions the Public Works facility deals with, the lack of indoor storage for the longevity of its equipment, he said. In addition, the building committee has exhaustively looked for sites and unfortunately the town is now faced with one that will carry high site development costs in addition to acquisition, he said. The building committee and selectmen at the suggestion of Chief Administrative Officer Robert Skinner, recently recommended a “design build” approach to keep the cost at $7 million or less.

Many parents and education officials have advocated strongly for a track. In discussing it at a Board of Education meeting Tuesday, officials discussed a few aspects, such as a scoreboard and bleachers, that could potentially be accomplished through fundraising but remained firm in their contention that the facility would give the town a field that could be used heavily used for much of the year, accommodate many sports and generate revenue.

If it goes forward, education officials have said they plan to present the public a cost-benefit analysis showing how revenue and yearly savings could help offset periodic replacement costs for the top layer of turf and track surfaces.

On Tuesday, Athletic Director Dee Stephan also said the facility is necessary for the town’s multiple sports programs and overtaxed fields and lack of a track.

“That turf and the track are so critical to the programs you have,” she said. 

If the finance board approves some or all the funding, selectmen are slated to meet Thursday night to set the question(s) that would go on the ballot.

Much debate has centered on whether to pose individual or separate ballot questions.

If the finance board recommends all the projects Humphrey said he supports separate questions or at least three — roofs and roads as repairs to existing infrastructure, the garage as a new location and facility and the track and field as a new imitative.

“Ideally, voters should be able to weight the merits of each project ultimately approved by the BOF and cast their ballot accordingly,” he said.

This week Barlow and Roberto leaned toward one question. Roberto said he would participate in the process even if the track is part of it.

With separate questions, voters would not know the ultimate impact to taxpayers, Roberto said.

Barlow said the town’s bond counsel has raised some logistical and legal challenges with separate questions.

He also said he was compelled by an e-mail from a member of the Permanent Municipal Building Committee member that argues separate questions compels people to vote for “what they want” without seeing the immediate benefit of other needs or educating themselves about the projects.

Selectman Tom Sevigny said the selectmen’s decisions will of course also largely depend on what the finance board decides tonight.

The meeting will take place Aug. 29 at 7pm at the Community Center located at 40 Dyer Avenue. Click here for the agenda.

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