Annual Town Meeting: Voters to decide capital projects, purchases Monday

Trucks, tanks, trees, plows and painting jobs — nearly $900,000 worth of projects and purchases proposed as capital expenditures in 2019-20 town budget will be put before voters at the Annual Town Meeting on Monday, May 6, starting at 7:30 in the Ridgefield Playhouse.
The annual meeting will also be asked to affirm the selectmen’s previous vote to schedule the referendum vote on the $148 million town and school operating budgets for 2019-10 for Tuesday, May 14, from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. with all voting in Yanity gym.
“The Board of Selectmen already approved the call of the Annual Town Meeting and Referendum,” First Selectman Rudy Marconi said, “but this will also be an additional approval for the referendum to be held on May 14.”
While the operating budgets are sent to voters at the referendum, they are sometimes the subject of questions and discussion at the Annual Town Meeting.
At the referendum votes will decide questions on the finance board’s proposals for: a $98,193,000 school budget representing a 3.36 percent spending increase; a $38,319,000 town departments budget, reflecting the “zero percent increase” achieved by the Board of Selectmen, which would actually be an almost $5,000 decrease from this year’s 2018-19 town allocation; the town budget also includes about $11 million for debt service; and there would be $1,840,000 for roads and infrastructure maintenance that will likely be a separate question.
The referendum will also ask voters to approve some of the more expensive capital spending proposals, such as a $1.2-million ladder truck for the fire department, $466,000 for school computer network infrastructure replacements, and $279,000 for school energy and water saving projects.
At the meeting
While the machine-vote referendum balloting will include the more expensive capital spending proposals, the less costly items — generally, those under $100,000 each — will be up for discussion and approval or rejection by voters who gather in Playhouse for the Annual Town Meeting the evening of May 6.
“It’ll be done by department,” First Selectman Rudy Marconi said. “Representatives of each department will be there if there are any questions.”
The $898,100 in proposed capital expenditures to be voted on at the Annual Town Meeting include construction jobs and equipment purchases —both replacement and new acquisitions —ranging from trucks and plows for the highway department, to trees for the tree warden, mowers for the golf course and parks department, replacement of oil tanks and doors, the painting of school interiors.
The Parks and Recreation Department has the largest total, nearly $305,000 up for a vote at Monday’s meeting, and also the most costly single item — $98,500 to complete ongoing locker room repairs at the recreation center.
Parks and Recreation Commission officials had to answer a lot of questions from both the selectmen and the finance board over the request for another $98,500 for to finish what’s already a roughly $1-million project to repair extensive water damage in the recreation center walls. Parks and Recreation Chairman Phil Kearns recalled the way the original $1 million request had been trimmed by one board after another in the approval process last year, and said it wasn’t really surprising that more money is needed to finish the job properly.
Other repair and maintenance projects in the parks and recreation capital budget that are going to the voters at Monday’s meeting include: redoing basketball and tennis courts at the Venus complex ($52,000) and Ridgefield High School ($12,000); $60,000 for safety improvements; $16,000 for playground fencing at Branchville School; and $20,000 for ADA compliance work.
The proposed equipment purchases headed for the town meeting include $45,000 for a turf tractor for Parks and Recreation and $80,000 for large area rotary mower for the golf course.
The highway department’s requests include $40,000 for guardrail replacements, $8,900 for snow plows and $4,600 “snow pusher” plow for the backhoe.
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 painting projects in the schools.
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 requests coming to the annual meeting are: $62,000 for firefighters’ protective gear; $20,000 for air tanks; $30,000 for cardiac defibrillators, and $19,000 for a CPR device.
The Planning and Zoning is seeking $44,000 for the second half of a consultant’s two-year effort to help produce a new Plan of Conservation and Development (POCD) for the town.
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.
Marconi said his support for the projects and purchases going to the Annual Town Meeting were evident when the selectmen passed the capital budget.
“I already voted to pass it on to the town meeting and the people of Ridgefield,” Marconi said.
On the operating budgets going to referendum, he noted that the selectmen approved a town departments budget at a zero percent increase, which was subsequently approved by the finance board, but had recommended a slightly larger cut to the school budget than the finance board made. The selectmen’s recommendation on the school budget called for a $460,000 cut to the $98 million school budget, and the finance reduced the school request by half that, $230,000.
“The Board of Selectmen voted and made a recommendation — a non-binding recommendation — to the Board of Finance on the Board of Education budget,” he said. “We approved our budget. And we approved the capital budget.”
The $148 million town and school operating budget which will go referendum would, if approved, required a 1.24 percent tax increase.
The capital budget proposals — both those voted on at the Annual Town Meeting and those going on to voters at the referendum — wouldn’t show up in next year’s tax increase because they would be financed with borrowing in the bond market. But repayment of the bonds would show up in subsequent years’ budgets.