After scrambling for financing, town sprints to meet ACT schedule

Work on the Schlumberger site has begun. The $680,000 projected cost will be covered without more money from the taxpayers, but it may be a sprint to finish the work in time for the June opening of a musical production in the theater building.

“The site work has started,” First Selectman Rudy Marconi said Monday. “We have a meeting with the contractor to review the schedule.”

The targeted completion date is the “end of May,” he said.

ACT of Connecticut, the alliance of local Broadway people that is renting and renovating the former Schlumberger auditorium, has its first production — the musical Mamma Mia! — scheduled from June 7 to 24.

The $680,000 covers site work — a loop road, parking areas, drainage, and lighting — for the two tenants that are renting and restoring two town-owned former Schlumberger buildings. ACT of Connecticut has the auditorium, or Schlumberger theater building. The design firm BassamFellows is putting its offices in the Philip Johnson building.

It was March 27 when Marconi won the approval of the selectmen and then the finance board for a plan to finance the project without having to ask the taxpayers for more money.

To come up with the $680,000 needed, Marconi is tapping $480,000 of state grant money that comes to the town each year earmarked for road work — called the “town aid road” account — and will use $200,000 of a projected $300,000 surplus in various town department accounts where a spending freeze was instituted for most of this fiscal year, which ends June 30.

It was the $200,000 in transfers that needed finance board approval — using the state road aid money required no action since the money will be used for road-related construction.

With the $200,000 in transfers approved, the town departments’ projected 2017-18 surplus is reduced from about $300,000 to about $100,000.

The school board and administration also have a partial spending freeze on, and after some scrambling now expect to complete the 2017-18 year without needing to seek an additional appropriation to end the year in the black — as required by state law.

Schlumberger costs

Marconi eventually won unanimous support from the Board of Finance — but not without some fairly aggressive back and forth.

“We’ve put a lot of money into Schlumberger,” said finance board Chairman Dave Ulmer.

Finance board member Jessica Mancini suggested the decision go to a town meeting.

“I think this is something the town should weigh in on, given the controversy over Schlumberger from the beginning,” she said.

Marconi argued that voters had weighed in with their actions over the last few years — rejecting the proposed “art collector” sale, then approving long-term leases to tenants who will restore the two buildings.

“I’d say, sitting in on all those meetings, we’re doing exactly what they asked us to do,” Marconi said. “They didn’t want us to sell those buildings.”

Underpinning the finance board discussion was a report on finances of the Schlumberger purchase, showing that the town had accumulated costs and expenses totaling $7,750,000, starting with the $6-million purchase in 2012. Those costs are partly offset by $5,550,000 in income from selling two parcels — $4,300,000 for the sale of 10 acres off Sunset Lane to Charter Group Partners and $1,250,000 for the sale of five acres off Old Quarry Road to Steve Zemo.

Substantial annual tax income from the two properties that were sold and are being developed is expected to eventually bolster the income side of the town’s Schlumberger ledger.

On the 10-acre site, 77 Sunset Lane, a project of 54 condominium units is nearing completion. Two projects are being developed on the five acres off Old Quarry Road — a memory care facility and a complex of 16 apartments with storage unit below them.

While his estimates on the two Old Quarry projects are rougher than those for Sunset Lane, Assesssor Al Garzi said a conservative estimate would be “$900,000 to $1.4 million for all three.”

And those taxes will keep being paid year after year.

Skydome

A third former Schlumberger building remains on the site — the odd warehouse-like structure known as the “Skydome building.” It is now slated for use as town storage.

To make Skydome usable, $176,000 in costs appear in the proposed 2018-19 capital budget that will come before voters in May. There’s $125,000 for a roof replacement, $23,000 to replace air conditioning, and $28,000 for prefabricated storage units. The plan is to use 30% to 40% of the space for document storage. The town might try to rent out some of the space left in the building.

While the finance board’s approval of the $200,000 in transfers for the site work was eventually unanimous, Marconi was surprised by the debate over it.

The town is obligated by the leases with BassamFellows and ACT — agreements approved by voters — to do the site work, he said. The money will have to come from somewhere. If the finance board didn’t accept Marconi’s plan, the alternative would be asking taxpayers for more money.

“We have to make you sweat,” said Sean Connelly.

“You did,” said Marconi.

 

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