$5.25 Million Sought To Fix Town Buildings
By: Mary Stanley
This fall, town officials will ask taxpayers to open their wallets and help pay for $5.25 million worth of repairs to town-owned buildings.
The question will first go to a Special Town Meeting in October. And if approved there, will appear on the November ballot as a debt exclusion.
Last week, by a vote of four to one, selectmen decided to place an article on the Town Meeting warrant asking voters to approve spending this money. They also voted, unanimously, to put it on the November ballot.
Chairman of the Capital Improvement Planning Committee S. Michael Baker went before selectmen last week urging them to support his committee’s recommendation to spend $5.25 million for repairs.
The debt exclusion would add about $65 annually to the average homeowners’ tax bill.
Last year, the committee hired consultant Grant Owen of Rider Levett Bucknall to compile a list of all the buildings in towns, their maintenance , and the costs associated with the repairs.
While the full list of capital needs for both the municipal and school buildings totals $25 million, the planning committee whittled that list down to roughly $5.25 million worth of priority items.
At the top of that list were fixes for the Fire Department’s headquarters on Route 6A. The maintenance needs there total $990,000. With garage doors opening and closing spontaneously, cracked masonry that allows water to seep through the brickwork and no second exit in case of an emergency, the headquarters are in violation of safety codes, according to Mr. Baker.
Other items on the priority list of repairs include work on the Forestdale Fire Station and the police department. Forestdale’s station needs insulation and a new roof and the police station needs new trim and gutters, windows, and masonry repairs. The cost to repair these two facilities comes in at $345,000.
Repairs to the Oak Ridge and Forestdale schools’ roofs also made the priority list. The 20-year life span on these roofs is up and windows at the schools need to be repaired or replaced. Cost for repairs to both of those schools comes in at $2.5 million.
Town Manager George H. Dunham pointed out Thursday night that it has been three decades since the town has spent any significant amount of money to maintain its buildings.
“We have gone more than 30 years without issuing a single dollar of debt for municipal buildings,” Mr. Dunham said.
This debt exclusion vote came on the heels of another discussion Thursday concerning a proposed Proposition 2 1/2 overide to cover the town’s operating expenses.
Unlike a debt exclusion, which is paid off over time, an override becomes a permanent part of the town’s tax levy.
Thursday, the selectmen said they needed to tread carefully with these two requests to increase residents’ taxes.
“It’s a tough situation. You’re asking for a debt exclusion for $5 to $6 million at the same time we’re asking for a Proposition 2 1/2 override,” said Selectman John G. Kennan Jr.
“My reluctance is that it’s all in the same time frame,” said Selectman Linell M. Grundman.
She added that she would prefer to wait on the debt exclusion until next year’s Annual Town Meeting when voters will be deciding on budget issues.
“Why can’t this wait until May?” she asked.
“I would have preferred to vote on this last May. There will never be a cheaper time to borrow money or hire contractors,” said Mr. Baker.
But Selectman James W. Pierce acknowledged that the town can no longer afford to ignore its maintenance needs.
“We’ve spent 20 years digging a hole. It’s time to put down our shovels, build a ladder, and get out of the hole,” said Mr. Pierce.
The board voted four to one to support the debt exclusion. Ms. Grundman voted against it.
The recommended repairs that Mr. Baker presented to the board last week are a bit different from the list of the original priorities presented in March.
Mr. Baker said his committee is not recommending that the living quarters at the Fire Station Headquarters be expanded. However, he did recommend that that town officials begin serious discussions about building a new public safety facility.
“We are hearing that the public would rather see a new public safety building built sooner rather than later. If we accelerated that, we might be able to get a building built, with public support, in three to five years,” Mr. Baker said.
Mr. Baker said that the $300,000 expense for the living quarters could be eliminated from the $5.25 million list of repairs, reducing the overall debt request or it could be left in and used to install an elevator at the Sandwich Hollows Golf Club, to be in compliance with Americans With Disabilities Act requirements.
He said his committee is also recommending that repairs to the Town Hall Annex, which total $935,000, be omitted from the list. He explained that the company which completed the study of the town’s buildings agreed to conduct a “re-life study” of this particular building. With this type of study, the consultants considered how long the town could expect the building to remain functioning before more work needed to be done.
As a result of that re-life study, Mr. Baker told the selectmen, “we do not recommend that you spend any money on the annex. That’s unanimous by the committee.”
He said the $935,000 worth of repairs are only short-term fixes and would only buy the town five years. Even if $2 million was spent in fixing the building, Mr. Baker said the facility still has a finite life span.
“It’s functionally obsolete,” he said.
Mr. Baker recommended that the employees working there remain until the town can come up with other options for relocating them.