At a virtual meeting of the Board of Finance on September 15, the Board reviewed proposals from both the Board of Education and the Board of Selectmen to appropriate the school and municipal expenditure budget surpluses to fund projects that had to be cut from their 2021-2022 fiscal year budgets earlier this year.
The Board of Finance voted unanimously to approve $118,645.83 in surplus and unreserved budget closeouts from the Board of Education’s 2020-2021 fiscal year budget.
When it came time to discuss the Board of Selectmen’s municipal budget surplus request, things got a little more complicated. The BoS was requesting an appropriation of the municipal expenditure budget surplus in the amount of $503,221.20 as well as $219,046.94 of the municipal revenue surplus from the 2020-2021 fiscal year.
The majority of the expenditure surplus would be used to fund projects that had been cut from the current 2021-2022 fiscal year budget, such as police dashboard and bodycams ($110,000), vinyl siding for the Company A firehouse ($60,000), road repair ($125,000), and fire department operation surplus ($2,268.14). The main bone of contention was the proposal to use $425,000 of the surplus for the purchase of properties at 13 & 15 Route 37.
In presenting the request to the BoF, First Selectman Pat Del Monaco stated that the town had an opportunity to purchase both properties, which would connect the Town Hall and library properties with Memorial Field and the senior center. She noted that until now, the owner had not been interested in selling. Although there might be some wetland limitations, she proposed hiking trails and perhaps a town green as uses for the properties.
Selectman Kim Hanson said that the proposal was a bi-partisan one, and that he supported the purpose. He said that he envisioned the installation of a band shell on the property as a gathering place for events in the center of town.
Board of Finance member Cheryl Reedy voiced concern that the proposed uses for the funds were not in the town’s five-year plan. She said that the funds should be used to fund items in the plan first.
Board member Anthony Yorio agreed, saying “I don’t see anything coming out of surplus that really addresses long term capital needs for the next 2 to 5 years.”
Ms. Del Monaco said that the American Rescue Plan Act funds offered an opportunity to fund some of those capital projects. When questioned about what had changed since the budget process earlier in the year when it was felt that the town might not be eligible for some of those funds, Ms. Del Monaco said that the guidance received from the Treasury Department after the budget process was completed brought using those funds back into play.
Board alternate Mark Werner suggested the option of approaching the seller about being paid over time rather than all at once. His thought was seconded by Board member Tom Garbin, who suggested the seller might realize a tax benefit from structuring the sale in that way.
Ms. Del Monaco said she felt purchasing the property was an opportunity for the town to improve the town center. She said that knowing what they know now about the ARPA funds and the way they can be used, she felt the town could use them to fund capital projects in the town’s five-year plan.
She mentioned projects in the plan, such as the sewer study and design that would take the project to the point of being “shovel ready” which would account for $1.6 million of the five-year plan. Del Monaco also said that another area in the plan where the ARPA funds could be used was the Ball Pond watershed issue. She said there were two pieces—the uphill and downhill. That cost was estimated at $150,000.
Mr. Yorio said he would like to use the surplus to fill some of the budget holes and wait to see how the ARPA fund “pans out” as far as what uses are actually approved by the Treasury Department.
Ms. Reedy suggested that the BoS prepare a rundown of what the ARPA funds could potentially cover out of the five-year plan and come back to the next BoF meeting to present a package that included that, as well as the purchase of the two Route 37 properties.
Board Chair Wes Marsh pointed out that there have been numerous examples recently of items that have come up that were not in the five-year plan that had to be funded. He mentioned having to build new schools rather than being able to renovate them, and the regulation that required the purchase of police dash and body cams. He suggested that the purchase of the Route 37 properties was another such item, and stated he was in favor of purchasing them.
He said he wanted to have to go to a town meeting once rather than splitting the items up and having to have two town meetings as a result.
Ms. Del Monaco gave an overview of the ARPA working group’s progress so far. She outlined potential projects that would be eligible for ARPA funding including the sewer study and design, replacing the dispatch center’s communication consoles, replacing the town park’s beach house, an affordable housing needs assessment, and the establishment of emergency housing and education advancement and job training funds.
After further discussion by the Board of Finance, the Board decided to wait until the next BoF meeting before making a decision. It tasked the BoS to return with a solid picture as to what projects are likely to be funded by ARPA and what items that are in the long-term plan would be addressed.
The next Board of Finance will be held Wednesday, October 20 at 7:30 pm via Zoom. The public is encouraged to attend.
By Greg Slomba