School phones, dump trucks, and locker room leaks: Capital budget seeks almost $4 million
Dam repairs, an ambulance, new phones for the schools, replacement trees, two dump trucks — the list of capital items for the 2017-18 budget goes is long, but the big item is $1 million to fix leaks and water damage at the Recreation Center.
The selectmen have approved the nearly $4-million request, which also includes a backup system for computer data, bulletproof vests for police, and a comprehensive study of improvements needed to make all town properties accessible to the handicapped.
Larger construction projects and equipment purchases make up the capital budget, things that would be costly as one-time expenses in the operating budget and can be expected to last a minimum of eight to 10 years — so they can reasonably be paid for by long-term borrowing in the bond market.
After a lot of discussion, with some trimming and some additions, a $3,993,365 capital spending budget for 2017-18 was unanimously approved by the Board of Selectmen last week — with most of the talking and an initial vote March 7, and a final vote March 8. The total of $3,993,365 represents a $4,893,365 total proposed capital budget that assumes that a $900,000 project of sidewalks and related pedestrian-friendly amenities in Branchville will be entirely covered by grants — if it isn’t covered by grants, Marconi told the selectmen, the town won’t go ahead with the project.
The capital budget will go on to be reviewed, possibly amended, and approved by the Board of Finance, which will send it for approval by town voters in early May.
Higher than usual
First Selectman Rudy Marconi observed that the $4-million vicinity was higher than the capital budget had been since the roughly $2 million a year in road repaving was moved from the capital to the operating budget a few years back — on the grounds that paving is a recurring annual expense.
“We should be in the two, three area,” Marconi said, meaning $2 to $3 million of capital expense.
Still, the town is paying down its debt, which peaked in the early 2000s as the result of construction work after voters approved the $90-million “school bundle” not long after voting to build the $34-million Scotts Ridge Middle School.
The town pays about $12 million a year in debt service — it’s budgeted to go from $12,060,000 this year to $11,523,000 next year. While some of that is interest, the portion of the debt payment that goes to paying off principal has been growing.
“The reduction of our debt continues … about $9 million a year,” Marconi told fellow selectmen last Tuesday. “We’re at $78 million now.”
Locker room leaks
The longest and most heated discussion concerned repairs for a “water penetration problem” that afflicts locker rooms and tiled shower facilities at the 15-year-old Recreation Center.
The selectmen toured the facility to view the problem, and the Parks and Recreation Commission had presented a detailed eight-page addendum to its budget with photos and a $1,268,756 repair estimate put together by Doyle Coffin Architecture and Roche Inc. Construction.
The selectmen agreed it should be done, and done in the coming year, but they approved only $1 million, feeling that when the project went to bid some lower numbers would come in. If they don’t, then some of the cosmetic aspects of the project will be taken out.
“Where do you draw the line?” Marconi mused. “Do you put in a new toilet, or do you leave it there. You’re putting in a new floor. If you put in a new floor you have to take out all the toilets.”
Parks and Recreation Commission vice chair Barbara Dobbins argued against trying to do the project on the cheap.
“You’re talking about our most important revenue-generating asset,” she said. “And we can’t have it look like it was patched.”
The school board has a list of 26 capital items, totaling more than $3,475,000. The selectmen approved $878,770 for the top two items: $378,770 for energy conservation measures — continuing the third year of a conservation effort that is already showing some savings in operating costs; and $550,000 to replace a telephone system with more than 800 phones.
“Since July 2015, there have been over 50 phone outages totally 125 hours of downtime,” Superintendent Karen Baldwin said in a memorandum to the selectmen. “We estimate the ‘uptime’ of the RPS phone system to be 80%. Recently, on Dec. 1, 2016, Scotts Ridge Middle School and the high school phones were down from 2 a.m. through 12 p.m. This resulted in classroom phone that cannot call 911 in an emergency, nor can they call the school nurse or office.”
“It seems like a safety thing,” said Selectwoman Maureen Kozlark.
“The phone system is in bad shape and needs to be done,” Marconi said.
He wondered what kind of phones the schoosl were buying.
“It’s not a top-of-the-line phone system,” said Kozlark, who’d looked into it. “It’s middle level.”
Among the capital budget requests from Town Engineer Charles Fisher are $90,000 for repairs to the Lake Windwing dam, and $41,000 to have “dam emergency action plans” drawn up for the Shadow Lake dam and the Great Pond Dam, as well as an “inundation map” for the Lake Windwing dam.
The emergency action plans would include “dam failure analysis, inundation mapping, dam monitoring and warning notification procedures,” according to a proposal from Tata & Howard, engineers of Marlborough, Mass.
It’s not part of next year’s capital budget, but the five-year capital plan projects a need for $350,000 in 2018-19 for construction on the Shadow Lake dam.
While the Public Works and Highway Department’s $499,000 capital budget is mostly fairly routine equipment replacements — $190,000 for a Mack truck, $66,000 for a lowboy dump truck, $191,000 for a John Deere loader, $40,000 for guardrail replacements — the five-year plan shows that the year after, in 2018-19, a $300,000 construction project is planned for the town fuel depot.
While the fuel depot’s location off Old Quarry Road near the town recycling center isn’t exactly Main Street, Marconi warned that the project will probably not be regarded as beautiful, as environmental regulations will require that tanks that are now underground be put aboveground.
When public comment was sought at the end of the discussion, the only person to speak was Parks and Recreation’s Barbara Dobbins. She was worried by the way the selectmen had trimmed the water penetration repair project.
“I question the validity of taking down our estimate more than 25%,” she said.
The full 2017-18 capital budget is expected to be available for viewing on the town’s website, Ridgefieldct.org.