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The Board of Selectmen wrapped up its part of the municipal budget work during a regular meeting February 5, along with approving the firm that will design a new police headquarters, and endorsing a Business Incentive Plan for a planned assisted living facility at the intersection of Church Hill Road and The Boulevard.
After moving a number of department budget requests during a previous meeting, selectmen finalized the spending plan for remaining departments, as well as next year’s debt service on all capital project borrowing (all school project debt service is included in the selectmen’s part of the budget).
After reducing the line for the town’s self-funded employee health plan by $40,000 due to continuing down-trending claims, and shifting $20,000 more into the first selectman’s contingency account, the panel moved a proposed $41,072,967 budget request to the Board of Finance for review, which would trigger somewhere between a 1.45 and 1.5 percent increase in the local tax rate next year.
The Board of Finance will kick off its work reviewing and possibly refining that bottom line as well as the proposed school district budget request following a scheduled public hearing at the Municipal Center on Thursday, February 15, at 7:30 pm.
Following the finance board’s final recommendations, the spending plans go to the Legislative Council to be disseminated to members of its committees for scrutiny, and then their recommendations go before the full council for final action.
The separate approved budget requests then go to referendum for taxpayer consideration on Tuesday, April 24.
The only department representatives on hand for the final stage of the selectmen’s process was Parks & Recreation. So Selectman Jeff Capeci took the opportunity to ask about how the department determines which of its jobs will be handled internally, versus by contractors.
Assistant Director of Parks Carl Samuelson responded, saying each aspect of his department’s planned work undergoes an efficiency and cost analysis to determine which projects might be less expensive or takes up less labor during busier periods.
He said those projects are gauged at the cost of his department’s labor hours and then he uses that cost factor to broker contractor cost estimates.
“Contractors are also frequently better equipped,” Mr Samuelson said, adding that when he looked at lawn maintenance costs for Fairfield Hills, he discovered that his personnel could complete the work required for less than a contractor. He said certain other lawn cutting work, particularly at local cemeteries, are highly time-consuming and contracted out for that reason.
Business Incentive Plan
William Donohue, a partner at Teton Capital, appeared with Economic Development Commissioners Wes Thompson and Cramer Owen and Deputy Director of Economic and Community Development Christal Preszler regarding a requested Business Incentive Plan tax benefit for a proposed assisted living facility being planned in the Borough of Newtown.
Last October, the Borough Zoning Commission (BZC) unanimously approved a 69 unit/72-bed assisted-living complex on a 3.97-acre site at 37 Church Hill Road (Route 6), referred to as Church Hill Village. Mr Donohue told selectmen that the firm hopes to start development at the site during the first quarter of 2018.
Church Hill Village would house residents generally over age 75, who require assistance with the activities of daily living, including some nursing care. In the spring of 2017, at the developer’s request, the BZC created zoning regulations that would allow an assisted living complex in the borough, provided that the applicant meets the terms of those zoning rules.
Senior Lifestyle, a Chicago-based corporation in the elderly housing industry, would operate the facility.
First Selectman Dan Rosenthal reminded Selectmen Maureen Crick Owen and Mr Capeci that the business incentive process does not move forward unless the first selectman endorses it. With that in mind, Mr Rosenthal spoke in support of the project, saying Newtown was competing with another neighboring community for it, and that if it comes to fruition, it represents “a good fit for the parcel and the community.”
The parcel is currently under contract pending closure awaiting a state DOT appeal for curb cuts on Church Hill. Mr Donohue promoted the benefit its location could bring to seniors needing services, adding that once completed, the facility would create 64 new, permanent full-time jobs plus additional jobs and local commerce during 12-13 months of construction.
Selectman Crick Owen said when she previously served as the borough zoning clerk, she became very familiar with, and concurred with Mr Rosenthal about, the benefits of such a project.
Mr Thompson of the EDC then noted that the current vacant and wooded parcel brings in $9,000 in annual property tax revenue. Once the construction reaches its approximate halfway point, its anticipated tax revenue generation would be $150,000, which would escalate to $338,000 at the time of occupancy.
Mr Thompson added that the developer would spend $16 million to build the facility and it would have a $10 million anticipated assessment. He said if granted, the incentive plan would provide delay an increase in taxation between that $158,000 and $338,000 assessment for three years. Local businesses will benefit from any added customers who might be visiting with loved ones, as well as staff and even some of the residents themselves.
He said the complex would result in a minimal costs to the town, and said insurance claims for any additional emergency medical transportation required by its residents would accrue to the local volunteer ambulance service.
Mr Rosenthal pointed out that when considering other options like another retail development, such a project would generate more traffic and congestion but provide little tax benefit. And the types of housing on that parcel would generate a significant draw in the form of education costs and other services.
In closing, Mr Donohue told the selectmen that it would be important to get the abatement because of high labor overhead at start-up, which he anticipated would be about $3 million annually. The motion by Ms Crick Owen to approve the incentive tax benefit was unanimously approved.
Police Station Architects
After welcoming Police Chief James Viadero, Public Building & Site Commission Chairman Robert Mitchell, and Charles Boos, the founding principal of Kaestle Boos Associates, Mr Rosenthal told his colleagues that he had previously attended all four design firm presentations that were held to determine which firm would head up design work for the new police station.
After those initial proposals were made, Chief Viadero said officials narrowed the firms down to two, eventually selecting Kaestle Boos, saying in part that the firm’s ability to provide and refine design presentation using a computerized 360-degree building schematic would go far toward appropriately illustrating the project ahead of April’s budget referendum during which the construction phase funding would be requested.
Mr Mitchell also noted the firm had already satisfactorily completed several police station projects, and offered robust technological capacity.
“The 3D presentation is very important because it provides a visual to department leaders to determine if plans are not exactly right,” he said, adding the firm, which has completed several other projects in Newtown, provides top-notch documentation and field representation.
“The PBSC strongly endorses Kaestle Boos,” Mr Mitchell said. “They’re responsive, and have a team member who is former law enforcement. On the question of whether the new station would result from building new or repurposing an existing commercial building previously occupied by a national publishing company on South Main Street, Chief Viadero said he asked the firm to vet that existing site, and was aware that the firm has an ability to either build new or refit.
Mr Capeci asked how many police station projects handled by Kaestle Boos involved refitting versus new construction; Mr Boos responded saying of the many stations completed across New England, about half involved retrofitting and the rest new construction. Mr Rosenthal said one of the big attractions to hiring Kaestle Boos was most of their team is in-house, which minimizes the need for and accountability from subcontractors.
The first selectman said their ability to bring effective project presentation to the public is “value added.”
Mr Mitchell said, “The PBSC asked ourselves, who do we want to work with for the next two years? Kaestle Boos was the answer.”
The presentation closed with the selectmen unanimously accepting Kaestle Boos as the design firm of record for the project.