This year’s Annual Town Meeting (ATM) is scheduled for June 21 at the Middle-High School athletic field. The gavel will strike at 6:30 p.m. to call the ATM to order. To encourage all to attend COVID protocols will be in place as an extra safety precaution. While the number of articles has been kept to as few as possible there are still very important decisions that need to be made including the resolution of five citizen petition articles. Last week I reviewed the 11 Community Preservation projects being proposed. This week, I dive into the capital requests.
We are making good progress in reducing the scale of our backlog of deferred infrastructure projects. In recent years we have been able to increase our funding for needed capital projects through a combination of directing more tax dollars toward capital, converting retired debt payments to direct cash for projects and using accumulated reserve funds. For the past few years, we have been gradually increasing the amount of capital exclusion votes by the same amount we are decreasing excluded debt payment for a no net change in taxation. This year, we can achieve the same result but tap into some of our unused levy capacity instead of voting in an annual capital exclusion. This year’s 0% tax increase and next year’s proposed 1.5% increase has allowed a build-up of unused levy (taxation) capacity per Proposition 2 ½.
Our capital projects continue to focus on mainly replacing vehicles, improving roads/sidewalks/drainage and installing larger, new pipes. Close to a third of the proposed $3.2 million in capital expenditures is for the Highway Department for road and sidewalk work, replacing three older trucks and engineering support as we begin to study options for a new DPW garage. Additional funds are also included for the reconstruction of the Central Street dam and culvert as we get closer to starting this project (awaiting word on a large federal grant to pay the bulk of this project’s costs) as well as funding for project oversight for the construction of a new composting facility at the current transfer station site scheduled to start this summer.
A few Town Hall projects are also on the list. While $200,000 is being requested for a needed major upgrade to the elevator that serves the building as well as for direct handicap access to the Police Station entrance. Another $52,000, to come out of the fees we collect from the cable company, is needed to upgrade the Audio Video equipment in the meeting room to enable us to hold meetings in person and virtually. This will allow boards and committees to meet in person while giving the option for audience members to attend in person or remotely, a new feature that our COVID induced changes has spawned.
Two design studies need voter approval. One is for a new ADA accessible bathroom at the Library, and the other is a matching sum for renovation and expansion of the fields at Sweeney Park (Community Preservation Funds supply the other half.)
Requests for our Public Safety operations fund our fire/ambulance apparatus replacement account for the future purchase of these very expensive vehicles, a new police cruiser (we replace one cruiser every year) and a new speed monitoring trailer, upgrades to the police station cell monitoring equipment as well as upgrades to the Fire Station, and the purchase of replacement fire gear.
For the Harbor Master, funds are requested for a boat to serve as a floating office to be stationed either at Reed Park or Tuck’s Point, allowing better oversight and quicker emergency. Funds collected from harbor user fees will pay for this.
Finally, for the remaining third of the dollars requested, voters are being asked to fund more water pipe replacement work as well as upgrades to the sewer plant.
All told some 20 plus items are on tap for voter review and approval. As we continue to spend around $3 million annually on town capital projects, we are able to reinvest in the existing facilities, equipment and infrastructure that make it possible to continue to serve the needs of the community. However, there are larger needs that are looming – the need for a new DPW garage, major upgrades to the sewer treatment plant, resiliency measures like bigger seawalls and larger culverts as the impacts of climate change become a greater reality to name just a few. How we pay for these and other needs longer term will be the subject of coming debates.
For the ATM this June 21, the focus is on the more immediate reinvestments we need to make in our community. Both the Selectmen and the Finance Committee members recommend your support for the items spelled out in Article 5, FY22 Capital, of the Warrant.