The following commentary is by Loraine Huchler.
I don’t understand the financial rationale for this budget.
This budget shows a request to use ARPA Covid money to design a new municipal building ($550K) and the 3rd floor of the library to allow a developer to create condominiums ($34K). Some people might argue that ARPA funding is “found money.” But there’s a catch. The capital budget plan shows that in the next year, the town will spend over $4.5M for the construction of the new town hall. And once you start the planning for a capital project – it’s hard to stop it – because to the average citizen – it looks like the town council and manager messed up.
During at least one past council meeting and again at the Town Hall, the town manager said that the reason to sell the water and wastewater plants is to “get rid of the debt.” Why is the debt for the water plants so bad, but the debt for a new municipal building OK?
This budget asks for $584K of ARPA Covid funds and there’s no information about grants. How will the town pay for this $5.4M project in 2024? Property taxes increases won’t work. Is the town planning to use the proceeds from the sale of the water plants to pay for the new town hall? And what’s the rush to build a new town hall? Our economy is headed for a long period of stagflation – now is not the time to take on additional debt and risk.
During the last 18 months, this council has worked very hard to understand some very complex issues. The decision about the water plants has a much greater impact on the quality of life than a new town hall. The PPEA consultant finally provided a budget forecast for keeping the plants.
Councilman Grossman provided an excellent analysis that contradicted the PPEA consultant’s rate forecast for selling the plants. This period of due diligence is still in progress and the council – not the town manager – must decide if VAW is the right entity to purchase the plants. There are numerous other options to improve the water and wastewater operations should the council decide to keep the plants.