CHESTER – At their latest meeting selectmen decided not to seek a bond from taxpayers to pay for Capital Improvements Program (CIP) expenses this year, an idea the group was excited about when first presented earlier this budget season.
But they also decided against funding the CIP directly through taxation, although this was a decision they may revisit after new information came to light at the end of the meeting.
Selectman Dick Trask had suggested the idea of a bond at the end of February, saying it was a smart way to raise significant funds to begin making a dent in the CIP’s expenditures. And with interest rates low, but likely on the rise, now was the time to do it, he said.
Since then the board has learned that the bond could not be as flexible as they hoped, and the work to put it together might be too much to handle before Town Meeting in May.
When Trask presented this new information, he noted that support for a bond was split within the budget committee, for which he is liaison, but that group did offer to support a $1 million CIP warrant article, if the selectmen agreed to lower their operating budget proposal.
That offer didn’t get far with the selectmen.
Selectman Jack Cannon said he didn’t like the horse-trading aspect of that offer and the CIP didn’t have to be funded, for all he cared.
Cannon said it was not worth considering something that would affect every department and service in town to get the CIP funded.
But later in the meeting, the selectmen were apprised by former budget committee member Chris Hadik that, the scenario proffered by the committee was different than the one explained by Trask.
Hadik came in at the end of the meeting to say that the committee was not looking to trade, but rather to fund the operating budget amount sought by the selectmen in a different manner.
Basically the committee’s nascent idea comes down to shifting some budget funds into a warrant article to fund the CIP and adding about $500,000 to that shifted money to get a total of $800,000 to be raised through taxation.
While it would be a significant tax rate hit this year, if the town could keep up with the amount as an annual appropriation, a lot of CIP projects could be handled in coming years.
Chair Steph Landau said he was in favor of a bond, but the amount of paperwork that needed to get done before Town Meeting was steep.
To do this right the board would have to start work in the fall, said Cannon, adding, “One of the things we do really well is jam ourselves up.”
As a potential compromise, Trask suggested a warrant article to raise $500,000 through taxation for CIP projects, but it wasn’t an idea that his peers said was worth the tax impact.
Selectman Joe Hagan said that while he was willing to bring the idea to the taxpayers, he thinks the board should be prepared to make an “absolute positive business case that this is the way to go, because that’s a lot of money.”
Hagan added that while some argue the CIP is a useful tool because it allows a municipality to utilize impact fees from new development to offset costs, in a town the size of Chester, to think those alternative sources of revenue were going to make a substantive impact was “an appeal to magic.”
But there’s a lot being asked for in the CIP and the town needs to start somewhere, said Trask. “It’s a start,” said Trask, adding that it should really be $1 million.
While his peers agreed that Chester was behind on funding needed improvements and equipment, some said the impact to the taxpayer in a single-year appropriation of that size wasn’t wise.
Cannon argued that the selectmen should hold off on a bond this year and put the requisite amount of time in to review the CIP and create a bond for next year. While the cost of a bond is going to be high in that first year, the impact of a large sum of money it represented would affect the community more, “and begin to whittle down that mountain of work that needs to be completed.”
Trask’s motion to create a $500,000 article failed, with only Hagan and Trask in favor, Landau abstaining and Cannon and Joe Castricone against.
After Hadik came in at the end of the meeting, the board indicated a willingness to further discuss the budget committee’s plan – with representation from that group – and potentially reconsider a CIP article.
Hadik noted that both bonding and leasing, financial moves the town often makes, simply cost too much in interest rates, and that funding the CIP through an annual appropriation made more sense.
In other business at the March 17 meeting:
- Selectmen decided to hold off on a motion by Castricone to combine the Recreation Commission and the Wason Pond Commission into a single committee, to make sure all players were involved and were heard.
Castricone argued that the move would shrink government and make more efficient the handling of recreation activities and related town lands and buildings. Castricone referenced “adversarial disputes” between some about who should be taking care of what around town.
Castricone had not sought input from those currently serving on the commissions in question, and his peers decided to hold off on further discussion until they could be involved.
Landau argued that the combination didn’t make much sense, and would, despite Castricone’s idea, make government larger and more complicated.
All agreed to ask Recreation and Wason Commission members to meet with them after Town Meeting to discuss the idea.