After asking pointed questions about a town plan to raise $20 million for library renovations and a new senior center, the finance committee voted resoundingly against the proposal this week.
The 6-1 vote followed sharp criticism about the way the selectmen and town manager were linking the two projects and how the financing package will be presented to voters at a Special Town Meeting later this month.
“This is about process,” said member Robert J. Guerin, speaking of his opposition to the first article on the Town Meeting warrant. “This isn’t about the legitimacy of either request at all.”
FinCom members met Tuesday, October 1, to discuss all the articles contained in a draft warrant for the Special Town Meeting, which is set for October 28. The meeting marked the last opportunity for FinCom members to have their views published in the warrant.
The board of selectmen is slated to sign the document on Thursday, October 10, and the following day, it will go to the printer, Town Manager George H. (Bud) Dunham told the committee members.
Mr. Guerin and other FinCom members Tuesday reiterated that town voters should be asked whether they would prefer to pay for the building projects through a debt exclusion or through the alternative sources outlined by Mr. Dunham and approved by selectmen last month.
Mr. Dunham has proposed that the town float a bond for the costs—borrowing about $16 million for a new senior center—to be known as the Center For Active Living—and about $3 million for interior renovations to the existing Sandwich Public Library.
The loan would not be repaid by raising taxes, but rather from alternative sources that include annual payment-in-lieu-of-taxes (PILOT) funds from the power plant; tax revenue from short-term rentals; and proceeds from the sale of town buildings.
Mr. Guerin said he objects to the linking of the two projects in one article and would like to see the two proposals separated, so taxpayers could consider—and vote on—each project independently.
He also reiterated that many finance committee members believe the town should ask voters whether they would prefer to pay for the senior center/library through a debt exclusion or through the alternative sources outlined by Mr. Dunham.
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A debt exclusion—which would be repaid through a temporary property tax increases—would require a two-thirds majority vote at Town Meeting and the ballot box, Mr. Dunham has said.
The use of the power plant money, rooms tax funds and money from the sale of town buildings would also require a two-thirds majority vote at Town Meeting, but would not require a separate ballot vote, Mr. Dunham has said.
Mr. Guerin said he believes a ballot vote would be more representative than a vote from Town Meeting, at which attendance can be sparse.
Most finance committee members also apparently agree with Mr. Guerin that the town should consider using the power plant PILOT payments to lower Sandwich property owners’ tax bills.
Mr. Guerin also criticized Mr. Dunham and the selectmen for creating and presenting the financing package to the public without consulting the finance committee.
“This was already baked and on the road as a done deal before it got to FinCom,” Mr. Guerin said.
He suggested the board vote down the proposal to “send a strong, loud and clear message,” that the process was flawed.
Mark I. Snyder, chairman of the finance committee, cast the sole vote in favor of the senior center/library proposal.
Mr. Dunham said after the meeting that the selectmen had spent many hours during capital spending public forums in 2016 and 2017 discussing how to raise funds for such large projects without raising taxes.
“At these meetings, no group was more outspoken than the finance committee in wanting to find non-tax sources to fund large-scale capital projects. That’s what’s being proposed in Article 1,” Mr. Dunham said.
The town manager added that the library and senior center projects have been on the town’s long-range capital plan since 2012.
“If [the library and senior center are] funded, we would have very few additional large-scale capital needs for the next decade or more,” Mr. Dunham added.