WVN #436: FinCom wrestles with big-ticket items
- Dear Wayland Voter,
As the Finance Committee ponders asking annual Town Meeting voters to approve more borrowing, some big-ticket matters are looming. One is a new $13-million building to replace the aging Public Works garage.
At its Jan. 9 meeting the FinCom didn't decide any of these matters, but it did reverse its long-standing opposition to establishing a Water Enterprise Fund that couldn't be raided for general town expenses. Expect to see an article on that at Town Meeting.
The Finance Committee appears to be contemplating a proposal for debt exemption for a new $13 million Public Works facility, although at least one member, Tom Greenaway, was concerned about the timing of the debt and urged steps to reduce the town's debt load in the interim.
After looking Monday evening at another large sum being proposed for repairs to Town Building by Facilities Director John Moynihan, the committee decided the town needs a facilities audit to see what buildings could be used for what purpose or retired.
The meeting was devoted to hearing capital requests from the facilities director and from the Department of Public Works. There was some discussion regarding the amount of debt the town is willing to support after hearing more about the need for a new highway garage.
The FinCom's long-standing practice has been to replace expired non-exempt debt (which doesn`t require a vote at the polls) with a roughly equivalent amount of new debt, calling it "tax neutral." This pays for such things as trucks and replacing floors and roofs in schools. But the reduction in tax rates voted by the fall special Town Meeting disqualifies the use of that term this spring.
Chair Cherry Karlson indicated the committee could investigate means of funding other than debt for some of these items because the free cash account is so healthy.
So Waylanders could again be presented with a lengthy list of trucks and other equipment, as well as the usual, and not so usual, items. But it's not known what items the FinCom will endorse.
Trucks, trucks, and more trucks
Public Works Director Don Ouellette presented an inventory of rolling stock to the FinCom, which was duly impressed. The FinCom has been asking for this list for a couple of years, and Ouellette said it took more than a year to get the list into the new software package.
Including gang mowers, sidewalk plows, and other wondrous and expensive gear, the DPW inventory has grown to 100 pieces of equipment, up from 70 about five years ago, according to information compiled by the 2006 DPW Assessment Committee. One citizen calculated that equates to about one piece of equipment for every 50 households.
The $300,000 Vac truck that Town Meeting approved last year to clean out catch basins has yet to arrive. It had an untimely accident en route and a new chassis is being constructed. It is expected to arrive soon. The equipment is an important part of stormwater management.
Although the FinCom has yet to discuss operational budgets for committees, the document submitted by Ouellette reaffirms citizens' repeated skepticism expressed at the last Town Meeting that operation of the Vac truck would require new staff, or reallocation of staff. Indeed, Ouellette's memo proposes shifting the highway crew from road repairs to stormwater management and replacing drains and pipes that need attention. In the past, Wayland has contracted for Vac truck services. The FinCom plans to discuss proposed FY13 operational budgets on Tuesday evening, Jan. 17.
FinCom As Gatekeeper
The Finance Committee has heard from nearly all departments regarding capital requests, but has not decided yet which items to propose at Town Meeting and how to fund them. Most of those written requests were submitted to the FinCom in October 2011. Some school capital requests are marked as "placeholders" pending a School Committee decision on the need.
When asked by a resident where one can see the status of current FY12 capital project spending, with the fiscal year half over, the public was told not to look for that information at the Finance Department. The FinCom chair advised interested residents to go back to each department, where the information is maintained. Monthly or quarterly capital spending reports in MUNIS software apparently are not sent to the finance director. The FinCom acts as the gatekeeper for FY13 capital proposals.
Capital request forms were not posted on the FinCom website until Monday Jan. 9, the day of the budget meeting. The description of each proposed FY13 capital request is available here:
The proposed FY13 operating budgets are available here:
Some capital items denied last year may reappear: wireless fire alarms, now positioned as building monitors rather than replacing the pull-boxes on streets; and wireless water meters. This time, the DPW has asked The Abrahams Group consultants to provide cost justification for the wireless meter readers.
Other items might not pass the FinCom's scrutiny, such as installing doors and upgrading the electrical system in the old salt shed at the transfer station. FinCom recommended that landscape screening of the new area to be developed in the North Cemetery on Old Sudbury Road be paid by the cemetery fees rather than by taxpayers. FinCom member Richard Stack said "there should be no tax burden to residents" for this. The proposal is part of a plan to make 1,300 new gravesites available.
The "elephant in the room" is the town's aging Route 27 highway garage. Facilities Director John Moynihan said that if the town makes needed repairs totaling $605,000 including roof, septic, ADA compliance, and heat in the garage, this is more than 30% of the $1.3 million assessed value, and will trigger the need to make the entire building code compliant, which could cost $2 million and the resulting renovated facility would still lack lifts for vehicle maintenance and the ability to wash vehicles. A student's tour of the existing garage can be seen on WayCAM's video archive: http://waycamtv.pegcentral.com/player.php?video=cea5b2024e581a25a86c07a8058dd36e
Ouellette predicted that washing vehicles properly could add three years to a vehicle's life. There was no mention of what other towns do, or of making arrangements to use their facilities for a fee.
The cost of replacing the highway garage is now put at about $13 million. If approved, debt service could start in late fiscal 2014.
There was discussion that this initiative should belong to the new Permanent Municipal Building Committee, but FinCom noted this committee has some members new to serving in town government and has met only once. FinCom Member Sam Peper said, "If they're not advocating (for this new building), we're not ready." Stay tuned. FinCom said it needs to have a budget by February to submit a proposal for a debt exclusion ballot question to the selectmen for the annual town election on April 3.
Water Enterprise Fund
Times change. After several years at Town Meeting of roundly defeating citizens' petitions to create a water enterprise fund, in the wake of taxpayer action at the fall Town Meeting to reduce excess free cash and reduce the tax rate, the FinCom discussed submitting such a warrant article for the April annual Town Meeting. When Board of Public Works Commissioner Mike Lowery reported that his board had already voted to submit such an article, FinCom members said they would support it.
An enterprise fund is in effect a stand-alone business supported by user fees. Water funds couldn't be applied to general town expenses, as has happened in the past.
Another commissioner suggested using some of the accumulated water surplus dollars to pay for a $700,000 capital proposal for wireless meter reading equipment, a measure that failed at the 2010 Town Meeting. For this spring the Public Works director said he expects to be better prepared to sell this capital initiative to voters.
-- WVN Staff
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Wayland Voters Network
Michael Short, Editor