What Does 2011 Have In Store For Sandwich?
By: John Paradise
Buildings, budgets, and contract disputes. These are the three biggest issues that the town will be grappling with during the new year.
For starters, what is the town going to do about the disrepair of its buildings?
In November, voters at the polls soundly rejected a proposed $5.3 million Proposition 2 1/2 debt exclusion for an array of town building fixes that included repairs at the police and fire stations, public works building, and the schools.
But just because voters in all seven of the town’s precincts nixed that request does not mean the leaking roofs and rotting windows have gone away. In fact, every day that goes by, some of these problems are getting worse and more costly to repair.
Mike Baker, who chaired the Capital Improvement Planning Committee—the group that championed the debt exclusion—said it’s not a matter of “if” another request will be made, it’s a matter of what shape this request will take.
With the local and national economies still struggling to get to their feet, finding a way to repackage these repairs to make the debt exclusion palatable to more voters is an unenviable task, to say the least.
Staying on the topic of buildings, what will happen to the Sandwich Public Library’s board of trustees plans to build a new library in South Sandwich?
The trustees are not looking to just build a small branch library. No. They’ve set their sights high. Current plans call for a 32,000-square-foot beauty. Ballpark estimates place the price tag for the library between $13 million and $15 million.
The trustees have been kicking the idea for this new library around for a while. The reason why they’re moving forward now on the plans is because the town has made it onto the short list for state funding, which could cover half the costs of the library.
But to stand a chance at winning this money, town taxpayers need to show they are willing to cover the other half of the bill.
We like the concept of a new spacious library in the more “population-central” part of town, but we worry about the timing of the request. We also worry about the library’s ability to staff a new building when its budget is already stretched paper-thin.
Perhaps the best thing that could happen to this project is that it misses out on initial state funding, but gets placed on the funding waitlist. This would buy the trustees and taxpayers some time in the hopes that when state funding again becomes available, we will have reached warmer financial waters.
Again on the topic of buildings, what will voters do with the recently unveiled idea of constructing a centralized police and fire department headquarters?
This is a pretty radical idea considering that the town is having so much trouble taking care of the buildings it already has.
What the town needs, before there is any more talk about new construction, is a detailed, realistic, and funded maintenance schedule for all of the existing municipal buildings, including the schools.
We’d like to see this make it to the selectmen’s top goals for 2011.
As for the town’s budget in the coming year, the picture is not good.
Currently, the town is facing a projected $1.5 million shortfall in its budget.
To help balance the budget, selectmen plan to reduce the town’s contribution to the schools and have encouraged Town Manager Bud Dunham to trim the “cushion” from his forecasts for future expenses.
It’s a tricky tightrope selectmen are walking with this approach. By having Mr. Dunham forecast expenses closer to actual costs, they’re essentially walking the rope without a safety net, not to mention they’ve hefted further burden onto the already heavily laden school department.
In 2011, we hope to see this mess concerning the school superintendent’s contract finally settled, one way or the other.
The conflict concerning the termination of School Superintendent Mary Ellen Johnson has dragged on too long already.
Dr. Johnson is suing the school committee, seeking $300,000, plus damages. She filed the suit in response to the board’s flip-flop vote on her contract. The board decided in the end, by a vote of 4-3, to sever ties with the superintendent, effective next June 30.
In her suit, Dr. Johnson alleges breach of contract and says the committee’s actions have interfered with her efforts to effectively lead the district.
This dispute, between the school committee and Dr. Johnson and between the school committee members who support Dr. Johnson and those who do not, is slowly but surely poisoning the school district.
Tempers flare, arguments ensue, everyone is on edge. And this is not only at school committee meetings. Teachers have begun complaining. How long will it be before students begin feeling the effects of all this?
It needs to end before it gets that far.
We hope that end comes early, rather than late, in the new year.
Besides these, there are many more questions to be answered in 2011. Will the town institute a pay-as-you-throw policy for residents’ trash? What does the future hold for the Sandwich Community School? What is to become of the Mirant Canal Plant? Will Quaker Meetinghouse Road finally get its sidewalks? How will Randy Hunt fare on Beacon Hill?
But if there’s one thing for certain in 2011, it’s that the New Year will certainly not be a boring one for this community, not by a long shot. So stay informed.
Happy New Year, Sandwich.
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