WVN #386: Scrutiny for capital projects as 7% budget increase predicted
- Dear Wayland Voter,
As Wayland prepares to issue bonds totaling more than $42 million, the Finance Committee wrestles with a variety of capital budget requests. The aim is to spare taxpayers new debt burdens aside from $33 million to build the new high school. Still, the town budget is expected to rise by 7%.
BUDGETING AS UNKNOWNS LIE AHEAD
`Tis the budget season, and with it last-minute surprises affecting the lengthy list of capital and operating budget items.
Among the surprises: the likely interest rate on the bonds Wayland is issuing, and expected cuts in state spending.
It looks like the longer term bond issues will be around 4%; the town had estimated an average of 3.5%. Wayland is on schedule to issue $42.37 million in bonds on Feb. 1, of which $33 million is for the new high school. Moody's continues to give Wayland a triple A rating, although some of its information seems off the mark. For example, it mentions 100 high-end condos at the proposed Town Center development, though currently only 88 are permitted, with12 one-bedroom units over stores.
After this $33 million offering for the high school, Wayland will still need to borrow another $2 million for the school.
The biggest driver in the 7% increase in the town's 2012 budget is the debt service, according to finance director Mike DiPietro.
The next largest factor is the Unclassified category in the budget, which includes an additional $1.2 million in salaries and health insurance.
The town's budget is split between capital requests, which often are paid through borrowing, and the operating budget, which pays for day to day salaries, benefits and expenses.
At the recent School Committee meeting, the new school budget director said he found $400,000 in double counting. Rather than save any money for the town, Superintendennt Gary Burton declared there was no reason not to run at full budget. At the joint meeting of FinCom and the School Committee Jan. 24, the amount was adjusted to about $250,000 and resulted from using Munis for the non-personnel part of the budget. In the future, there will be much more detail at a line item level. The double counting was for FY 11 only, and had been corrected in the presentation to FinCom.
The Finance Committee dealt first with numerous capital equipment requests for Fiscal 2012. In the process it is applying scrutiny and insisting on requested detail, some of which is still not being provided by departments.
Goal: Cut $4 Million From Wish List
The Finance Committee wants to limit non-school capital borrowing to $4 million in order to have a "tax neutral" capital budget, i.e. the same as FY 11. But the term "tax neutral" applied to the capital budget overlooks the new $33 million in debt the town is issuing in February as part of the financing for the high school. The list of requested capital projects as of Jan. 10 totaled more than $8 million.
Skeptical questioning by members of the FinCom resulted in eliminating some requests such as new windows at Claypit School.
The FinCom started listening to capital requests on Jan. 10 and continued on Jan. 18 when building repairs were discussed. The Board of Public Works (BoPW) presented a lengthy list of items and projects, most of which lack the required detail, totaling $2.915 million. For starters, the FinCom has asked for an inventory including age and condition of all rolling stock. The list of requests, which was in order of priority, showed a lack of influence by the parks portion after it was separated from the recreation department and subsumed into the Department of Public Works (DPW). For example, improvements at the Hannah Williams Park ranked number 8. Members of the FinCom asked the BoPW why it would rank something so low that would serve a portion of the population that generally doesn't have children in school yet.
Athletic Fields and Public Safety Building Lead List
The two largest items: (1) a $1.525 million allocation for some of the athletic field development/improvements listed in the Gale consultant report, specifically two new fields at the middle school, and (2) $1.3 million for the flood-damaged Public Safety Building. These funds would move the electrical, heating and communications equipment located in the basement. It does not include installing a 14-inch slab because no one could guarantee that it wouldn't buckle from the groundwater.
There's also a $125,000 request for irrigation of fields on Riverside (near Riverview Circle) . Again, members of FinCom questioned the high estimate for installing one well and also asked if the town installing new irrigation wells isn't sending a message to residents to do the same. Another item is a vacuum truck costing $300,000 to clean storm drains, especially the newer type. One suggestion from the audience was that Twenty Wayland. the Town Center developer, be asked to contribute to this equipment as it is now requiring town maintenance of some new drains to be installed as part of the project . These new drains are mandated by state conservation laws to mitigate the effects of Town Center construction of buildings, roads and parking lots.
The Finance Committee has also applied skepticism to the much-mentioned $13 -$18 million cost of constructing a new Public Works building. The figures include $1.875 million for design work. Last year's FinCom FY11 Plan lists the same design cost for a facility costing $18.5 million. In 2005, Town Meeting unanimously approved funds to design a new facility. In 2007, the former Road Commission submitted a warrant article to construct the Weston & Sampson-designed $11.5 million facility. The Selectmen removed the article from the warrant.
The BoPW itemized the water department capital requests separately, as these are financed by user fees. The total is $1.345 million. A network meter reading system is back on the list again, for $700,000. This allocation was rejected at the previous Annual Town Meeting. Members of FinCom asked why the town should install this in its entirety instead of phasing it in, as other towns do. DPW director Don Ouellette noted the system would save the rate payers $193,000 per year, but some members of the FinCom took issue with the "savings." It might save water, but whether it saves costs to the users is another matter, they said. The DPW director admitted the $700,000 did not include the cost of new billing software. When asked about associated new labor costs, the director dismissed the concern, saying the system is automated.
Improving Water Pipes
Of more importance regarding public safety is the proposed replacement/upgrades to the clogged 4-inch water mains in the Route 2 7/30 intersection, estimated to cost about $510,000, which will improve the capacity to fight fires. The BoPW wants to do this before the intersection is rebuilt, counting on roadwork funding from the state. For its five-year capital plan, the DPW director is asking for an additional $500,000 each year to address additional substandard water mains in other locations, including Main Street and side streets off Pemberton Road. Another $135,000 was requested for pump station upgrades and a generator required by the Department of Environmental Protection.
Computer systems were on the list from both the town and the schools. In both cases, the budgeted cost is $1,000 per personal computer, which some see as overly expensive.
The school department capital request was for $825,000, of which $675,000 is for technology, which includes $440,000 for laptops, and projectors, and $150,000 for servers and network. FinCom member Richard Stack repeated his view that equipment costing less than $1500 should come from the operating budget. The School Committee had approved the budget request prior to submitting it to the FinCom by a 4-1 vote. School Committee member Shawn Kinney said he hadn't approved it because he wants to see cost savings built into the plan before equipment is purchased.
What's in the Bond Issue?
Remember when the spring 2010 Town Meeting approved several capital items, while also disapproving several others? Wayland is scheduled on Feb. 1 to issue bonds totaling $42.37 million. In addition to the $33 million in bonds for the high school, there is $5 million for the new wastewater treatment plant required in part by the Town Center proj ect, $850,000 to cap the landfill, and $785,000 for school technology as part of what was approved at the spring Town Meeting..
New bonds for the water department amount to $1.31 million; most of which was approved in prior years for the Baldwin treatment plant and system upgrades, wells and drainage. There's also $510,000 authorized in 2010 to clean and line water mains on Stonebridge Road. This item was changed at the fall 2010 special town meeting to fixing pipes on Old Sudbury Road and Glezen Lane.
In addition, the bonds include $675,000 for the recreation department, $550,000 of which is for a new bathhouse and $125,000 for field renovation. Building repairs amount to $440,000, and $245,000 for DPW and Water Department equipment. Lastly, $65,000 for feasibility studies -- of $30,000 is for Greenway and $35,000 for the senior center. The Greenway study includes whether and how to convert some of the land into active recreation such as fields. WVN has heard mention of installing an "athletic complex" there. Currently the fields and forest areas offer prime territory for passive recreation such as strolling, cross country skiing, picnicking and kite flying.
The bond durations range from one year for the feasibility studies to 2036 for the high school. The wastewater bond, which is borne entirely by the town without any escrow by Twenty Wayland, lasts for 20 years. As of last week, a land transfer for the new wastewater plant had not occurred although it has been approved by 2009 Town Meeting voters. The construction contract awarded to Waterline last September has been extended several times while attorneys for Twenty Wayland and the town keep working on the legal agreement associated with the land swap.
-- Molly Upton
Thursday, Jan. 27 , 7 p.m. The Finance Committee meets with the Board of Public Works to review several large-ticket DPW capital planning requests; FinCom wants more information.
The FinCom is expected to continue its review of the School Department's FY12 budget.
Thursday, Jan. 27 , 7:30 p.m. Residents are invited to review and contribute comments to the proposed changes in the Zoning Bylaws at meetings in Town Building Thursday, Jan. 27 and Thursday, Feb. 17, 2011 at 7:30 p.m. Zoning Bylaws influence many aspects of a town.
Unlike last fall, in addition to the bylaw recodification warrant article for non-substantive changes, there will be separate articles to address floodplain protection and maps, special permits for educational and religious uses, and the mix of retail and office use within the mixed use overlay district. Further substantive changes in site plan approval and other sections of the zoning bylaw will be proposed in spring 2012.
Voters may also make comments at regular meetings of the Planning Board, the Finance Committee article hearing on Monday, Jan. 31, or the Planning Board's article hearing on Tuesday, March 1. Written questions or comments can be directed to Town Planner Sarkis Sarkisian at ssarkisian@... .
Zoning bylaw recodification project text:
Frequently asked questions:
On Saturday Jan. 29 residents can drop in for a visit with Selectmen Sue Pope and Tom Fay between noon and 1 p.m. in the Raytheon Room of the Wayland Library.
Monday, Jan. 31 , at 7 p.m. the FinCom will hold its Warrant Hearing for proposed articles submitted for the April 7 annual Town Meeting. A draft warrant and other information are posted on the town website:
According to its published schedule, later on Jan. 31, the FinCom is expected to vote the FY12 draft budget.
REMINDER: Tuesday, Feb. 1 is the deadline for filing for FY11 property tax abatements. The Assessors Office has posted pertinent information:
Property owners are encouraged to bring questions to the office staff before deciding to file for an abatement in the event that dialogue would provide needed clarification or possible resolution. Hard copies of abatement applications, information and several years of data are available over the weekend in the reference section of the Wayland Library.
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Wayland Voters Network
Michael Short, Editor