Allocation Will Include Over $1M For Road And Sidewalk Repairs Though Backlog Estimated To Be $22
Seven million dollars in spending on capital improvements have been recommended by the Joint Capital Planning Committee (JCPC) to the Town Manager. The JCPC, composed of three Town Councilors and two members each from the School Committee and the Jones Library Board of Trustees, recommended the capital improvement plan proposed to them by the Manager in February with a few suggested modifications.
The total cash available for capital projects this year is $5,427,671, after accounting for existing debt. This comprises 8.5% of the property tax levy, unspent capital reserves from last year, and State Chapter 90 funds for road improvements. In addition, $1.6 million of new borrowing is proposed, bringing the total spending to about $7 million. Capital requests from departments, which were funneled through the Town Manager before being submitted to the JCPC, nearly equaled available funds.
The suggested modifications included increasing a new Sustainability Fund line from the proposed $50,000 to $100,000, and potentially removing $450,000 for design of the North Amherst intersection from the plan, unless keeping that money in the budget will increase the likelihood of receiving a state grant for the construction. Other suggestions were to seek out hybrid vehicles when possible and to look at reducing investments in technology. Many computers were purchased using federal COVID relief funds which may allow that budget to be reduced, and some departments have funds remaining from previous allocations.
Largest Allocation Goes To Public Works
The largest portion of the $7 million in capital spending is for public works, totaling $2.5 million. This includes $850,000 of town funds for road repairs and a similar amount from the state, and $200,000 for sidewalk repairs. In future years, amounts allocated to road and sidewalk repairs will be reduced as more capital funds will be needed to repay debt on the four major capital projects (Jones Library expansion, elementary school, fire station, and public works facility). Public Works Superintendent Guilford Mooring recently told the committee that the backlog in road repairs is estimated at $22 million.
Recommended vehicle purchases totaled $1.7 million, including a new pumper truck to replace a 1999 model, four police cruisers, a school bus, two special education vans, five trucks, and a street sweeper.
New HVAC System For Munson Library
A long-planned project to replace the heating ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) system at the Munson Memorial building was given the green light with an additional $30,000 to supplement existing funds. In addition, the committee encouraged the Town Manager to allocate a further $30,000 from existing maintenance funds so that insulation and ceiling fans could be added to the building. (See this Indy article from last year about the Munson.) Facilities Manager Jeremiah Laplante told the committee that the 275-gallon oil tank at the Munson is refilled every three weeks, even though the building is mostly empty and he keeps the temperature in the mid-50s.
Requests for the elementary schools totaled $1.2 million, the bulk for roof repairs, HVAC system updates, and computers. Councilor Mandi Jo Hanneke noted that the schools had significant funds remaining from previous allocations and encouraged the school department to use those up first. (See here and here for Indy articles about unspent capital funds.) The provision of information on unspent funds from appropriations that were at least three years old was new to this year’s JCPC process.
One other new addition this year to the draft plan from the Town Manager was a list of pending projects not yet slotted into the five-year plan either due to insufficient funding and/or because additional planning is needed (see page 21 of the draft report here). The committee omitted the list from their report to the Town Manager and instead recommended it be revised to organize projects into categories: 1) “shovel ready,” if a grant is secured; 2) projects that have been discussed and are a priority; and 3) future projects that require fuller development and analysis.
One item on the list – improvements to Crocker Farm, estimated at $9.2 – $27.2 million — garnered significant opposition from School Committee member Peter Demling. Demling said he was not opposed to improving Crocker Farm per se but since the School Committee had not yet discussed it, he felt it was premature to be included in a report. (The Crocker Farm Feasibility Study report was presented to the Town Council and School Committee last July. At the request of School Committee member Ben Herrington, Crocker Farm’s long term capital needs will be discussed at an upcoming School Committee meeting on May 11.)
Requests for the Facilities department amounted to $785,000 for improvements to town buildings. This included $400,000 for a new HVAC “chiller” and $25,000 for replacing built-in cabinetry at the police station. Demling commented that the cabinetry seemed a lower priority repair than many needs at the schools.
Not included in the JCPC report are capital investments in buildings or equipment that are funded outside of the town’s capital budget (i.e., the enterprise funds supporting the water and sewer systems) as wall as projects that are funded through the Community Preservation Act. The Committee recommended that the Town Manager consider ways to include those investments in his final plan for a more comprehensive summary of capital improvements across all funding sources. In addition, they recommended that he highlight the trade-offs needed to fund debt on the major capital projects over the next five years.
The Town Manager must present his budget, including the Capital Improvement Plan, to the Town Council by May 1.