Photo: piqsels.com

As of June 1, 2020, there was approximately $3.5 million in unspent funds for Town capital projects, according to a report from the Town acquired by the Indy through a public records request.

This money has been appropriated since as far back as 2002 but the work has either not been completed, not begun, or cost less than the amount allocated. The projects include repair and maintenance of municipal buildings, equipment, and road and sidewalk repairs.

In several instances, funds have been approved over many years for the same facility and types of expense while previous allocations remain unused. Some examples are the Bangs Center ($140,058 over five years with multiple allocations for floors, windows, and exterior repair), municipal building envelope work ($199,268 over three years), and Library information technology equipment ($55,242 over five years). Unused appropriations for work on Town Hall total $92,042 over five years with multiple allocations for energy conservation and exterior maintenance, including $30,000 to repair the front steps for which an additional $125,000 was sought for next year.

Repairs and improvements to the Munson Library totaling $172,359 have been appropriated from as far back as 2002 and have not been spent. Items include interior and exterior repair/maintenance and improvements to the building’s Heating/Ventilation/Air-Conditioning (HVAC) system. 

Over the past two years, $908,621 in road and sidewalk construction work has also not been spent. How to apportion the town’s available capital funds between this work and other capital needs was a contentious topic at this year’s JCPC meetings. Ultimately, the Town Manager recommended that 50% of the severely-restricted funds be committed to roads and sidewalks, with the balance reserved for urgent capital needs. 

Some other big-ticket unspent items include: $620,000 towards the purchase of Hickory Ridge Golf Course; $125,000 for a comfort station at Plum Brook; $35,000 for a large backlog of capital projects at trails and conservation areas, and nearly $25,000 allocated for improvements at Puffer’s Pond. 

Requests from the Planning Department account for another $144,283. A downtown wayfinding project (i.e., signs) totalling $90,000 still has a little over half of that budget remaining. The rest of the planning money is still waiting to be spent on consultants “to conduct a community planning process” and “provide guidance on zoning, preferred massing and architectural styles, and streetscape improvements” in the North Amherst Village and Town Centers.

Community Preservation Act Projects

A similar issue of projects being delayed or never carried out for various reasons affects Community Preservation Act (CPA) funds, although the CPA Committee includes unspent balances in their annual report. This is a different pool of money from the Town’s capital budget and it works a little differently in that the grantee is sometimes not the Town itself but a separate entity, like a non-profit organization. In those cases, the money is reimbursed, up to the appropriated allocation, when it is spent. 

CPA funds come from a 3% surcharge on property tax bills and are recorded separately from the Town capital budget. Over $2 million of the unspent CPA funds is for projects that would be paid for out of the CPA receipts, while $766,132 would be borrowed and then the debt service would be repaid each year out of that CPA allocation.

Questions about Processes

For many years, the CPA committee has reviewed projects that were funded in previous years to monitor their progress in spending. Funds that have been returned to the CPA fund, either because projects were completed under budget, or because the project did not move forward due to some circumstance beyond the control of the CPA Committee, are routinely included in the total available for allocation. For projects funded through the JCPC process using the capital allocation (a percentage of property tax revenues that is directed to capital), there has not been a systematic review of previous articles, although Finance Director Sean Mangano said recently that it will be part of the process going forward.

At a joint Finance Committee and Community Resources Committee meeting on June 12th, Council president Lynn Griesemer said she “really likes the idea that they look very carefully at what [capital/CPA/enterprise fund] money is not expended,” and after a 3 year period “bring it back in, even if it’s Town money. It’s just sitting out there and there’s no reason for it.” Town Comptroller Sonia Aldrich responded  that some projects are getting closed, but the process is not ideal. “Could they close a little faster at times? Absolutely,” she said.

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