After a lengthy discussion on the town's most dire infrastructure needs, members of the South Windsor Town Council appear poised to send to referendum this fall a number of capital improvements requests that could total close to $12 million.
Councilwoman Jan Snyder, the chair of the capital projects committee, submitted and discussed the final draft of the South Windsor Capital Improvement Program Monday night, detailing $12 million in projects that, if approved by the council, would be put to voters at a referendum in November.
If the referendum passes, the money would be borrowed through bonding.
While most of the coucil members were clearly in favor of an athletic fields proposal during Monday's special meeting Monday, they expressed concerns over whether voters would approve the additional improvements in the town's capital improvement plan.
No one disputed the need for the plan's listed projects, which include the following:
- $2 million for IT upgrades for the town;
- $1.7 million in town buildings upgrades;
- $3.3 million in school buildings upgrades, including roof replacements at the high school and Pleasant Valley School;
- $3 million in road re-paving and repairs;
- $650,000 to re-pave the high school parking lot; and
- $1.35 million for IT upgrades in the schools.
The plan also includes a strategy to fund the capital improvement program going forward such that the town does not find itself in the position of having to go out to referendum to repave roads, as well as a call to target and prioritize projects for the next five years.
It's something that the town has not done in the recent past.
“We haven’t been great stewards in taking care of our capital projects,” Snyder said. “We have some things that have to be done right away.”
Most councilors said that the $10 - 12 million price tag for the capital improvements listed in committee's draft report made sense.
“We have a couple of responsibilities,” Deputy Mayor Gary Bazzano said. “One is we have to keep taxes from getting out of control. The the other is to make sure South Windsor is kept South Windsor.”
Bazzano said that no one wanted to have a visitor to a school see a leaky roof.
Councilor Cindy Beaulieu said that the projects were the result of what happens when “you do nothing for a long period of time.”
But the issue among several Councilors was whether the time was right to present the entire package to residents in such a difficult economic climate.
“I’m a little conflicted,” Councilor Keith Yagaloff said. “Many items really need to get done. But every year for the budget we spend down, and we’ve been pretty good at that. [With the capital projects proposed], it will all be for naught. We’re not just spending money, we’re borrowing it.”
In addition, Yagaloff said that several projects didn’t necessarily belong in a traditional capital improvements request, because the life expectancy of those projects - like IT improvements - wouldn’t survive the 20-year bond repayment schedule.
“I don’t want people to think it’s a shopping spree,” Yagaloff said. “If people perceive it’s a shopping spree, they’ll reject the whole thing.”
Snyder responded that the requested capital improvements did not represent “a shopping spree.”
“You get to a point when the roofs to schools need to be done,” she said. “We are elected to do what’s best for the community.”
Further adding to the complexity of the discussion was Town Manager Matthew Galligan’s proposal to build a new recreation facility near Evergreen Walk for about $4.5 million through a lease/finance purchase.
Such a project would not be subject to voter approval and would create much needed space at the community center, which could then be used entirely as a senior center, without having to add 10,000 square feet to the building at a cost of about $1.5 million.
The discussion, piggybacked on the earlier athletics field presentation, had at least one town councilor struggling to make sense of it.
“We have to cut through the haze, because I’m getting confused,” Councilor Edward Havens said. “Where do we start? The fields? The capital projects? … We have to come up with a plan I understand.”
Yagaloff said that he was concerned that financing the athletic fields and a recreation center through lease purchase agreements would make it appear that the town council was trying to run an end-around voters.
Mayor Thomas Delnicki said that he believed voters would reject the overall package if it were presented as one question.
“Something together like this has a larger chance at failure,” he said. "I think we have to split things up." We will have some success, but we might have some failures."
Galligan grew short when told that it was not a good time to request all the projects listed.
“When are times good?” Galligan asked. “Don’t cut the capital budget and leave it at $3 million and we won’t have this discussion. You cut the budget, but then you want athletic fields and senior space. At some point, you’ve got to pay the piper. … We have important projects that have to get done."
Galligan said that he understood that politicians want a zero percent tax increase, but that it's not about taxes, it's about responsibility.
"The bottom line is, as I sit here, we have $16 million in projects [including the recreation center]," he said. "Set the priorities and we'll do it."
No action was taken on the matter and will be under further discussion at future council meetings.