The Republican Town Committee this week excoriated the town’s plan to build a new senior center and renovate the existing Main Street library.
“We do not believe these proposals are revenue-neutral to the taxpayers and [that they] will ultimately financially harm the very group they are trying to service,” Republican Town Committee chairwoman Andrea Killion wrote in a statement she read aloud to the members on Monday night.
“We are disappointed that our Sandwich town government leaders have unilaterally decided how to spend much of this $50-plus million dollars we are projected to receive” from the power plant over the next 25 years, she wrote.
The 30 or so members of the Republican committee who attended the meeting voted unanimously to approve the statement (see letter on Page 4) and publicly disapprove the construction projects.
Ms. Killion was referring to the town’s proposal to borrow $20 million to finance the two projects—about $16.5 million for a new senior center and about $3.5 million for the library renovations.
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.
The funding package is slated to go to the voters for approval at a Special Town Meeting on Monday, October 28.
In a related matter, the Capital Improvement Planning Committee this week declined to vote either in support of or against the selectmen and town manager’s funding proposals for the library and senior center.
Two of the members said they needed more time to study the matter, although much of the information has been available for six months.
The CIPC’s decision not to support the projects—which are combined as a single warrant article for the upcoming Town Meeting—means their collective opinion will not be included in the warrant when it is printed next week.
Chairwoman Nancy Crossman said that if the CIPC members reach a consensus at a meeting tentatively scheduled for Monday, October 21, she could issue a statement at the beginning of the Town Meeting.
Ms. Killion said the Republican Town Committee believes the seniors deserve a “functional, accessible meeting space,” but do not believe building a new facility is the only way to provide that space.
Patricia Collins, the chairman of the council on aging, was also in the audience at the Republicans’ meeting.
She said that if the senior center is not built now, in a way that does not siphon money from taxpayers’ property taxes, it will never be built.
“Not in my lifetime, certainly,” Ms. Collins said, adding that the senior center project has been postponed and reshuffled from the town’s priority list for more than 14 years.
Ms. Killion said Wednesday that there are other town buildings that could be used for a combined senior center and library.
The Republican committee believes, however, that the Main Street library is “functionally obsolete” in today’s electronic age, Ms. Killion said.
Mark Wiklund, chairman of the library board of trustees, who also attended the Republicans’ meeting, said bringing the library into the electronic age and providing community spaces are among the reasons renovations are needed.
Despite its antiquated appearance, the Main Street library draws more than 200 visitors a day, Mr. Wiklund said.
David J. Sampson, chairman of the selectmen, said this week he does not understand why critics are suddenly making an appearance in the weeks just before the Town Meeting.
“The information has been out there since April,” he said.
Last week the finance committee voted 6-1 against the construction projects.
They sharply criticized the linking of the two projects and said they believe the taxpayers should choose whether they want to fund such projects through a debt exclusion or through the alternative financing methods proposed by the selectmen.
The Republican committee and finance committee members said they believe the town should consider using the power plant PILOT payments to lower Sandwich property owners’ tax bills.
Mark I. Snyder, chairman of the finance committee, cast the sole vote in favor of the senior center-library proposal.
Town Manager George H. (Bud) Dunham said after the finance committee 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 told the finance committee and the CIPC 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.
The 26,000-square-foot Center for Active Living would include two floors with an expansive lobby, an indoor-outdoor cafe, a reading room, and a multipurpose room on the first floor.
The second floor would have activity rooms, games, fitness rooms and classrooms.
The facility would also house an 8,000-square-foot gym with an indoor walking track encircling the gym on the second floor. The gym would be open to the community, although that access would be limited to evenings and possibly weekends, Ms. Collins, chairman of the council on aging, has said.
The complex would be sited in the southwest corner of the proposed public safety campus at the intersection of Quaker Meetinghouse and Cotuit roads.
The library renovations would make the entire building more inviting, more tech-friendly, and add light and meeting spaces.