It’s been almost three months since selectmen promised residents that if voters supported a plan to convert the former Santander Bank building into a new municipal office building rather than a competing plan to turn it into a senior center, the board would work its tail off to win approval this fall for a brand-new senior center elsewhere in town.
Since the promise was made, we’ve heard very little on the senior center subject. No cost estimates, no schematics, not even a date yet for the fall meeting.
We understand that selectmen and town officials have a lot on their plates, particularly dealing with the town’s invigorated wastewater remediation efforts, transitioning into the new public safety complex, and planning for renovations at the old bank, but we worry that time is running short for an effective public relations push to win sufficient voter backing for a senior center.
This week, Town Manager Bud Dunham assured us that the town has not taken its eye off the ball.
Responding to emailed questions on the subject from the Enterprise, he wrote that the architect is in fact proceeding with his work on the plans.
“We’re still shooting for an informed overview of plans and price estimates to the selectmen by late-August to mid-September. This should set us up well for a late October [Special Town Meeting],” he wrote.
Town officials not only have to sell the idea for the senior center, they also have to sell the rather unorthodox plan for funding the project without raising taxes.
The plan is to borrow the money over 20 years and pay it back with a variety of alternative revenue sources, including anticipated revenue from the short-term rental tax, annual payments from the power plant, and the proceeds from the sale of town buildings.
Under a new statewide short-term rental tax, Sandwich is expected to double its annual “bed tax” revenue, realizing about $250,000 annually, Mr. Dunham has said.
The buildings the town is looking to sell are the Town Hall Annex on Main Street and the municipal office building on Jan Sebastian Drive. Both of these buildings will be empty once the former Santander Bank building is ready for the town to occupy.
But selectmen have backed this alternate funding plan, rather than going after the more traditional Proposition 2½ debt exclusion to pay for the senior center.
Mr. Dunham has noted that paying the money back without a debt exclusion leaves the town vulnerable if the economy falters and causes a shortfall in anticipated revenues.
Selectmen are confident that won’t happen. But they still need to convince the voters.
With just more month left until summer’s end, it might be time to fire off a few public relation salvos and get people thinking—and talking—about the project again.