At an April 20 special virtual joint meeting, the Board of Selectmen and Board of Finance each voted to approve the Town’s purchase of 78 Gillotti Road. The property will be incorporated into the plan for the new high school building that had been approved by voters late last year.
The Board of Selectmen voted to authorize and appropriate funds for the purchase of property located at 78 Gillotti Road by a 2 to 1 vote, with Selectman Kim Hanson voting against. The Board of Finance voted unanimously to approve the appropriation from the Town’s Cap & Non account.
During the public comment session at the beginning of the meeting, several Gillotti Road residents spoke to voice their objection to the purchase of the property and the new school layout. The main reason they cited was the fear of increased traffic congestion, intrusiveness of lighting, and the movement of the high school building from farther back on the campus to closer to Gillotti Road.
The purchase was able to be approved without a town meeting as the result of the Governor’s Executive Order allowing for the suspension of in-person voting requirements for critical and time sensitive municipal fiscal deadlines. While some had questioned the validity of authorizing the appropriation and purchase under the executive order, First Selectman Pat Del Monaco had solicited the opinion of the Town’s legal counsel on the matter.
In his written opinion of the matter, Town Attorney David L. Grogins stated his opinion that the Town was acting according to the Governor’s executive order which requires “an affirmative vote of the Board of Selectmen to purchase the property, an affirmative vote by the Board of Selectmen and the Board of Finance to authorize the special appropriation, and an affirmative 8-24 referral.”
In the discussion prior to the Board of Selectmen vote, Selectman Kim Hanson stated his opposition to the purchase, contending there was no need to act so quickly and without, in his opinion, sufficient notification to nearby Gillotti Road residents. He also called into question the legality of the transaction as well as the validity of the notification process for the Planning Commission meeting where the 8-24 referral was approved.
First Selectman Pat Del Monaco and Selectman Khris Hall both disagreed with Mr. Hanson, stressing their belief in the time pressure of making the purchase as well as the potential savings the new plan would have on the project.
At previous BOS and BOF meetings, three possible options had been reviewed. One of the options, which requires the purchase and incorporation of the 78 Gillotti Road property, was considered by the Permanent Building Committee to offer the best option. The initial layout, devised prior to the opportunity to acquire 78 Gillotti Road came to light, does not incorporate the property and would require the relocation of three existing wells, rebuilding of two practice fields and regrading of slopes and the existing access road, as well as a wetlands issue. The total cost to make those improvements would be $2.2 million. This option and the associated costs had been accounted for in the original project budget, according to BOF Member Anthony Yorio.
The option that requires the $325,000 purchase of the Gillotti Road property, he noted, would free up those $2.2 million in funds to be used in other areas of the project such as better landscaping and/or parking, or a better building layout.
At a previous meeting the PBC had voted to reduce the project budget by $452,772, which would yield a net debt service savings (after the State’s contribution to the project) of $325,000. The PBC also voted to take an additional $547,228 and move it into the project contingency budget. Those two actions, according to Mr. Yorio, would effectively take $1 million out of the construction budget and eliminate the $2.2 million needed for site improvements in the original plan.
Funds for the purchase would initially be taken from the Town’s unappropriated fund balance. The ultimate result would be that the cost of the property purchase would be folded into the building project at no extra cost to the taxpayer. While not guaranteed, the hope is to realize some of the $2.2 million savings in going with the new plan, minus the $325,000 property purchase. Any savings will not actually be realized until the building project is completed, and there is no guarantee of any savings at all. However, both boards as well as the PBC are convinced that the latest plan is the most prudent, cost effective plan to date.
By Greg Slomba