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Keeping borrowing and debt service as conservative as possible in 2017 without jeopardizing any planned projects, the Legislative Council voted 11-1 to approve the town’s five-year Capital Improvement Plan (CIP) during its first meeting of the year, Wednesday, January 4.
With Councilman George Ferguson opposing after failing to get any support for a complex amendment that would have trimmed significantly more from several additional projects in next year’s capital plan, the council spent the better part of three hours immersed in discussions and analysis of various capital requests before endorsing a 2017 CIP with $700,000 in reductions to four projects slated for bonding.
The final reductions to next year’s proposed capital borrowing included $100,000 from the Newtown High School auditorium, which came after officials received new cost estimates to complete all approved aspects of the project.
A half-million dollar earmark for open space acquisition was trimmed to $250,000 after First Selectman Pat Llodra’s explained a detailed process that involved what amounts to exchanging part of next year’s open space funding to provide an additional $200,000 for a significant land preservation effort at Castle Hill Farm that would need to close in the current year (see related story).
Council members also agreed to reducing a $350,000 allocation for streetscape and sidewalk improvements by $150,000 after First Selectman Pat Llodra reported the town would only require $200,000 in matching contributions to the project’s grant funding. And after learning that planning costs for a proposed new police headquarters would be less than anticipated, council members agreed to trim $200,000 from a half-million-dollar earmark in that capital borrowing line.
Prior to final approval, Deputy Director of Land Use Rob Sibley answered several questions about open space acquisition funding and the importance for leaving some funding available in the CIP annually to evidence good faith if the town is suddenly presented with an acquisition proposal that would require funding outright, or as ready and available matching funds in the event that grants for land preservation became available.
The first selectman said that keeping funding available provides “evidence of local commitment in the CIP for open space and streetscape,” which she explained, “has provided an opportunity to access extra grant funding.” In fact, Mrs Llodra said open space, streetscape, and sidewalk initiatives have been most successful in recent years qualifying for significant grant underwriting.
Council Chair Mary Ann Jacob pointed out that by having earmarked funds authorized to spend positions Newtown favorably to receive grants that may have already been prioritized for other towns when those other towns cannot come up with funding.
That discussion apparently prompted Councilman Chris Eide to motion an amendment to bring the 2017 CIP earmark for open space up to $500,000. And while it was seconded for discussion, that requested amendment failed 11-1 with only Mr Eide supporting his own motion.
The council also called upon Edmond Town Hall Board of Managers Chair Margot Hall to answer a few questions about planned capital improvements at that Main Street building. The CIP proposal allocated $571,000 in 2017 for the purpose of replacing and expanding air-conditioning in the second floor Alexandria catering space, prep room, and its brand-new adjoining commercial kitchen, as well as increasing air-conditioning to the ground floor gymnasium.
Town Hall officials previously explained that the failing system in the Alexandria Room was jeopardizing client functions during the hottest summer months, and that expanding air-conditioning in the kitchen and prep areas would increase client comfort as well as potential rental revenues. Ms Hall said the same theory applied to the lower level gym, which hosts recreational basketball leagues as well as a number of other public and private functions.
She said intense heat during the summer made it more difficult to maximize rental opportunities for that space, which currently provides about 40 percent of the total revenue generating capacity for the entire building.
Based on preliminary estimates of increased revenue that might be generated because of the A/C improvements, Councilman Ryan Knapp calculated that it would take Town Hall trustees 28 years to break even on revenue against the cost of these two projects alone. Another $268,000 is requested for other Edmond Town Hall improvements in 2018.
He asked that Ms Hall and her board analyze and hone their future revenue projections, and be prepared to discuss them, as well as how they will better market the facility to generate more revenue, in the coming weeks as 2017-18 budget discussions commence.
In all, the council’s action January 4 authorized a total of $11,669,000 in capital projects for 2017, along with a cap of $9,609,345 in bonding if all requested appropriations come to fruition.
The approved 2017 CIP projects and corresponding bonding are as follows:
*Capital Road Program — $2,750,000
*Bridge Replacement Program — $525,000
*New Senior Center — Design & Construction — $3,000,000
*Treadwell Pool Deck Replacement — $400,000
*Edmond Town Hall Air-Conditioning Project — $571,000
*Library Renovations — $273,000
*Police Facility Design — $300,000
*Town Sidewalk/Streetscape Plan — $200,000
*Open Space Acquisition Program — $250,000
*Hawley School Roof Replacement — $850,000
*Middle School Improvements — $1,800,000
*High School Auditorium — Phase II — $750,000