After questioning the police and fire chief about their proposed capital budgets for the coming year, the finance committee voted unanimously this week to recommend passage of all but one warrant article for the March 23 Special Town Meeting.
The committee voted on Tuesday, February 25, to withhold its recommendation for a transfer of additional funds—which could be more than $1.6 million—to renovate the new town office building at 100 Route 6A.
Committee members said they would like to know more about the costs of those renovations before taking a vote on whether to recommend the fund transfer to voters.
The cost breakdown will not be known until the town receives bids from contractors for the work. Those bids could come in by the end of the week.
“We will meet again and issue an opinion on Article 1 before the Special Town Meeting, but it will not be in time to be included in the [printed] warrant,” said Finance Committee chairman Mark I. Snyder. “We will announce our recommendation at the Town Meeting.”
The recommendations of the board of selectmen and the finance committee are outlined in bold text beneath each article in the published warrant for each Town Meeting. The warrant for the March 23 Town Meeting is scheduled be published and posted next week.
The board of selectmen is expected to sign the warrant next Thursday, Town Manager George H. (Bud) Dunham said this week. According to the town charter, the warrant must be posted in town hall and other government buildings by next Friday and will, also on Friday, be sent to the printer to produce multiple copies for the Town Meeting.
The projected town budget has grown from about $85 million to $86.6 in the past few months in anticipation of the increased costs for renovations to the former Santander Bank building at 100 Route 6A, Mr. Dunham has said.
The repair estimates given to the town in December failed to take into account that HVAC and electrical systems are outdated and in need of replacement, Mr. Dunham has said.
He has stressed, however, that the additional $1.6 million—if needed—would not result in higher property taxes.
Instead, the money would come from savings that resulted after shifting to a different health insurance plan; and free cash from tax roll payments—including selling off surplus town property.
The finance committee has chided the town for failing to do its due diligence on the renovation costs.
The town purchased the former bank building last May. The $3.95 million approved by voters at Town Meeting included about $1.8 million for building upgrades to convert the bank into new town offices.
Since receiving the news that those costs could double, Mr. Dunham and other departments have looked into how much of the work could be done by the town itself—such as upgrading the septic system—and scaling back some of the proposed alterations.
If transfers from other line items are needed to pay for new HVAC and electrical systems, those transfers must be approved by voters at the Special Town Meeting.
The discussion about 100 Route 6A has eclipsed the main reason for the Special Town Meeting—to approve $2.6 million in Community Preservation Act funds to transform the Henry T. Wing School into an affordable senior housing complex.
The finance committee last month expressed its unanimous support for the 128-unit senior housing project proposed by Stratford Capital Group.
“It seems to me this is the most obvious no-brainer that has ever come before the finance committee,” committee member Bob J. Guerin said at the time.
The three-phase project, Mr. Guerin said, “hits it out of the park—open space, historic preservation and affordable housing. It’s the trifecta.”
Stratford proposes purchasing all the buildings on the Wing school site for $1.3 million to build a $53 million mixed-income development for people over age 62.
The developer has requested $2.65 million in community preservation funds to help defray the demolition costs to take down all the buildings on the property except the historic red brick “1927 Building” facing Route 130.
The warrant for the Special Town Meeting also includes approval of the $976,000 capital budget, which includes about $300,000 for police and fire department equipment; about $250,000 for the department of public works and $300,000 for school building improvements.
Fire Chief John J. Burke and Police Chief Peter N. Wack attended this week’s finance committee meeting and answered questions about nominal increases for their respective budgets.
Chief Wack said he is asking for $50,000 for ballistic equipment, which includes new bulletproof vests to replace those that have expired; $15,000 for taser equipment and $75,000 to upgrade the radio equipment.
The radio equipment costs may be offset by a deal the police and fire departments are negotiating with Verizon, Chief Wack said.
Chief Burke said he is extremely pleased with the staffing levels and response times of the department and is seeking to maintain both.
He said the department now has at least 10 personnel at the start of each shift, which has increased overtime, but is less expensive than hiring more firefighters.
“We are right where we’ve wanted to be for several years,” Chief Burke said.
The other articles for the March 23 Town Meeting warrant are housekeeping items such as transferring funds for beach renourishment and updating the wording of appropriations approved at past Town Meetings.