Trucks, cameras, and repairs: $4.5 million capital budget goes to voters

Trucks and trees, servers and security cameras, computers, cardiac monitors, building repairs — with a modest $57,000 trim, a nearly $4.5 million capital spending budget was approved April 2 on a unanimous vote by the Board of Finance. Unlike the operating budgets that hit taxpayers next year, the capital spending is all financed with borrowing and repayment would be spread out over many future fiscal years.
The capital budget totals $4,468,620, and will be sent on for approval by voters at the May 6 Annual Town Meeting and May 14 budget referendum.
“This is more than usual but there are some big items — two HVACs and a fire ladder truck that we expect to get a $900,000 grant for,” finance board Chairman Dave Ulmer said during the April 2 deliberations.
“...This year’s Board of Education request seems to address many problems, and is a reasonable amount,” Ulmer added.
At $1,210,000, the ladder truck is the most expensive item in the capital budget that the finance board is sending to voters, but the town’s cost will be about $310,000 if the grant money comes through.
The finance board’s vote on the capital spending plan came the same night it approved a 1.24% tax increase to finance a $148 million operating budget for 2019-20, including over $98 million for schools and over $38 million for the selectmen’s town departments budget.
The 2020-19 capital budget had been approved by the Board of Selectmen before it got to the finance board. “It’s a little higher than we had hoped,” First Selectman Rudy Marconi said as the selectmen reviewed of $4.5 million list of major projects and purchases from all town departments and the school system.
“It’s at $4.5 million,” Marconi told finance board members when the capital budget was passed to them. “$1.6 million is Board of Ed, that we didn’t touch.”
“It’s a lot of tech,” added Selectwoman Maureen Kozlark.
Gym floor removed
The finance board’s one adjustment to the proposed capital budget was to remove $56,950 to repair a gymnasium floor at Ridgefield High School. Since capital request list was first put together, the floor had suffered water damage and school officials now anticipate getting the floor replaced with insurance money — so the finance board pulled it out.
Removing the gym floor lowered the proposed capital budget to $4,468,620 from the original $4,525,570 passed along by the selectmen and the school board.
The motion to approve the capital budget was made by Sean Connelly, and seconded by Jessica Mancini.
“We know what’s in there and it all seems fair,” Mancini said. “We want to support the town and schools.”
Less than $100,000
On April 3, the day after the finance board’s budget voting, the selectmen agreed by consensus that most capital items of less than $100,000 would be sent to voters for approval or rejection at the Annual Town Meeting on May 6. Larger capital purchases and projects will go to voters as part of the May 14 budget referendum.
Traditionally, referendum voters get a question on the town operating budget, another on the school operating budget, and several questions on capital spending.
Under the $100,000 guideline, the following items would likely be excluded from discussion at the Annual Town Meeting and made part of referendum questions:
A $197,000 Mack dump truck for the highway department;
A $255,300 road sweeper for the highway department;
An $475,000 upgrade to heating and air conditioning (HVAC) at the Venus Building;
Replacement of a rooftop HVAC unit at the recreation center ($320,000);
Repair of East Ridge Middle School’s front steps ($122,000);
Sidewalk improvement work totaling $150,000, expected to be covered by a Local Capital Improvement Projects (LOCIP) grant;
The fire department ladder truck is priced at $1,210,092, with the town’s cost expected to be $310.092 after a $900,000 grant.
The schools’ capital request for $466,000 for a “network infrastructure replacement” program has a safety aspect since it includes servers involved in operating door-locking systems.
The “school security and assurance” project totaling $167,810 and including servers that store information for school security cameras.
The $187,000 for “environmental compliance” work at schools, includes removing oil tanks at Veterans Park and East Ridge, and continuation of asbestos tile replacement at Scotland School.
A $279,000 school “energy and water savings project” including upgrades to LED lighting in hallways and classrooms in Branchville and replacement of water-cooled walk-in freezers at Branchville and Farmingville.
Three school building improvement projects totaled nearly $300,000: replacement of the front vestibule at Barlow Mountain School; and replacing the high school’s auditorium lighting and library carpeting.
The schools are also seeking $208,000 for “end of life fleet and equipment” replacements.
Two school roof repair projects just under $100,000 —Scotland ($94,000) and Branchville ($90,000) — are on the town engineer’s list, and expected to go to voters at the referendum.
The town’s information technology department wants $99,000 for upgrading of routers and switches.
Locker rooms, guardrails, computers
The remaining $898,000 in capital requests, expected to be voted on at the Annual Town Meeting, cover a wide range — trucks, mowers, oil tanks.
Most costly of the capital spending proposals going to the town meeting is $98,000 to complete ongoing locker room repairs at the Recreation Center.
Both the finance board and selectmen questioned the $98,000 for the locker rooms, but the Parks and Recreation Commission convinced both boards it was needed and sensible. It would finish a roughly $1 million project to repair extensive water damage in the recreation center walls. The $1 million request had been nibbled down as it went through the approval process last year, Parks and Recreation Chairman Phil Kearns said, and people shouldn’t be surprised that more money is needed.
Repair and maintenance projects in the parks and recreation capital budget also include redoing basketball and tennis courts at the Venus complex ($52,000) and Ridgefield High School ($12,000), $60,000 for safety improvements, and $16,000 for playground fencing at Branchville school, and $20,000 for ADA compliance work.
The proposed equipment purchases headed for the town meeting run from a $80,000 large area rotary mower for the golf course and descend in price to a $4,600 “snow pusher” plow for the highway department.
The town engineer’s list includes of projects and purchases includes: underground tank removals at Yanity gym ($22,000), town hall ($14,000) and the police station ($12,000); $59,000 for door replacements; $22,000 for work at the Branchville train station; and 17,000 for school painting projects.
The tree warden would get $55,000 for replacement trees.
The police department is seeking $14,000 for a laser crash and crime scene mapping system and $11,000 for a call recording system.
The fire department is seeking: $62,000 for firefighters’ protective gear; $20,000 for air tanks; $30,000 for cardiac defibrillators, and $19,000 for a CPR device.
In addition to two about $13,000 for snow plows, the highway department is seeking $40,000 for guardrail replacements.
Planning and Zoning is seeking $44,000 for a consultant’s effort to help produce a new town plan.
The library is seeking $26,000 to replace the material handling system known as “the beast.” which automatically reads catalog numbers and sorts returned books. The library also wants $13,000 for lighting upgrades, and $20,000 to replace desktop computers used by both the public and the staff.
Those computers got some scrutiny from finance board, although they were approved.
“I don’t’ like $20,000 for computers in the library,” Ulmer said.
“I’ve been in the library — those computers do get used,” Connelly said.
“Philosophically, you don’t bond computers,” Ulmer said.