NEWINGTON – The $28.8 million plan to rebuild Town Hall would not increase taxes, Town Manager Tanya Lane announced Tuesday night.
She revealed how the town could utilize its capital improvements fund to pay for the project in a 20-year bonding schedule, in front of about 100 people who attended a public hearing on the proposal.
“Because town councils have maintained a commitment to the CIP program over the years we can pay for this project without an impact on our taxpayers,” Lane explained. “We haven’t borrowed any money for the last 12 years and because of that we have one of the lowest debt levels in the state of Connecticut. This project is worthy of your investment and we have the financial capacity to do this.”
The Town Council typically dedicates $6.2 million of the town’s annual budget to this fund, allocated to building projects. Lane’s plan is to stagger the ratio of debt service to pay-as-you-go projects over the next 20 years, to pay back the bond.
This particular project’s potential to raise taxes has been a longstanding concern among property owners. The vast majority of people who spoke at the presentation offered their approval.
“We’re not going to be paying any higher taxes; to me it’s a no-brainer,” Mary Udice said.
Town resident Wayne Alexander, who delayed his comments until later on in the evening, congratulated the team for presenting a viable, cost-effective plan.
“You try, try, try again until you get it right,” Alexander said. “We finally got it right. This is the best financial package that ever came up. Do we want to continue losing money in this (current) building or do we want to invest in the future?”
Built in 1950 with additions made in 1955 and 1971, the existing facility has been on the drafting table for over a decade. At least five building committees have worked on designs. Voters most recently rejected a proposal to construct a new community center in Mill Pond Park and renovate Town Hall separately. This design failed in a September 2014 referendum.
“The stingy man pays the most,” said Don Woods. “We need to spend money judiciously and wisely and now is the time.”
If Tuesday’s public hearing was any indication of voters’ general consensus, the current committee could be the first entrusted with moving a design to fruition.
“I’ve lived here over 10 years, Jerilyn Nagel said. “This building has always needed something and it never got fixed.”
Gary Bolles recalled cautioning town officials back in the early 1970s that a renovation without replacing the deteriorating systems was a bad move.
“A tremendous amount of money has been wasted since then on maintaining this building and the aging mechanicals,” Bolles noted. “Let’s get this ball rolling.”
Nicholas Arace, a Democrat running for Town Council this November, also gave his approval.
“This is a needed project,” Arace said. “I’m a definite yes vote and I hope our community will do the same.”
A main concern has been minimizing operating costs for heat, plumbing and electricity, systems currently in poor condition. The new facility would be about 28,000 square feet smaller, saving the town over $2.8 million in energy costs over the following 20 years.
Another $2 million would be saved by avoiding the need to relocate employees during construction, since department offices can be rotated from the current to the new facility as it is rebuilt. Committees have gone back and forth debating a renovation vs. a total rebuild, this being one of the deal-breakers.
Construction is expected to last 18 months, beginning next summer with a fall 2019 completion.
“We believe this is a very successful project that meets all the program needs,” Tom Arcari, principal of Quisenberry-Arcari and the project’s architect, said Tuesday.
He worked alongside the committee and construction manager Downes Construction on the new design. Committee Chairman Joe Harpey led the presentation at the hearing, calling the team’s work process, “comprehensive and bipartisan.”
“This project’s time has come,” he added later on. “A resolution has to be met.”
Rod Mortensen recommended the town continue offering informational sessions to voters before the Nov. 7 referendum.
“That way no one can say they haven’t had any opportunity to find out about the project,” he pointed out.
Erica Schmitt can be reached at 860-801-5097, or firstname.lastname@example.org.