Town meeting voters Saturday approved $5.75 million in capital projects for Fiscal Year 2021, despite a challenge that financial uncertainty mandated a delay.
A variety of purchases and projects, ranging from school furnishings and painting to fire safety equipment and a replacement sewer pumping station, was approved following lively discussion of whether capital purchases should be deferred.
Walter St. Onge, former selectman and Finance Committee member, opened a discussion of the capital article with a prepared statement. “We are in unprecedented times. Every person and every business has been hurt by the pandemic, some in profound and sad ways,” he said.
There’s so much uncertainty about public health and its consequences, and “town meeting just recognize this,” St. Onge continued. “We are spending too much money…. All of the financial articles were prepared before the crisis. Adjustments have been made but I don’t believe they are enough,” especially in light of uncertain variables like state aid, new growth, and local revenues.
He called for defeating the article, with a revised proposal to be presented at a fall town meeting. None of the items is critical, he said, and “maybe in the fall, there will be more clarity on town finances. Let’s wait before committing to all of this.”
The only voice in agreement was that of long-time town meeting regular Rich Daugherty. “We need to be prepared for uncertainty,” he said, and no one at any level of government knows what will happen. “These are all discretionary articles that can be re-examined in the fall.”
Maryellen Carter of the Capital Expenditures Committee acknowledged that there are reasons to be concerned, but pointed out that “the items were vetted not only by her committee, the Finance Committee, and the Select Board, but also the municipal departments where they originated.
“Items have been removed that are truly not essential,” she continued. “Items that remain are on for a good reason.” Some will increase in cost if delayed, and others require long lead times. “A lot of thought has been put behind this.”
Former Planning Board member Sandra Hackman echoed that position, noting that the Bedford Local Transit van costs more to repair than to replace.
The only project that engendered any prolonged discussion was for betterments to the middle school parking lot and its surrounding area, which were not funded under the current expansion work.
Other questions were about meeting stormwater regulatory requirements without funding; and whether school improvements were related to pandemic adjustments (they were not). Nancy Wolk successfully moved that every item by voted individually; all of them passed without the need to count.
In June, the Select Board agreed that three major bonding proposals on the original warrant should be indefinitely postponed. Also deleted from the original capital article were proposals for a floor scrubber, library fire alarm replacement and door improvement, work at the compost center, and $95,000 in new vehicles.
The approved projects, with their corresponding costs, are as follows:
- Automatic Chest Compression Lukas Tool Replacement-Fire, $17,561
- Durable Furniture and Equipment Replacement-Schools, $42,500
- Energy Efficiency Measure Building Systems Retro Commissioning-Davis School, $66,948
- Flooring-Schools, $55,008
- Hardscape Improvements-John Glenn Middle School, $558,279
- Hose Tester-Fire, $8,210
- IT Plan Replacement-Schools, $573,700
- IT Equipment & Projects, $138,040
- Infrared Heating for Wash Bay-DPW, $15,000
- Infrared Radiant Heating Main Truck Bay-DPW, $60,000
- Intercom System Replacement-High School, $140,000
- Interior Painting-Schools, $55,008
- Large Equipment Replacement-DPW, $290,160
- Program Space Modifications-Schools, $42,560
- Vehicle and Equipment Replacement, $382,000
- Video System Upgrade Theater Equipment-Schools, $55,800
- Wood Shingle Roofing Replacement-Job Lane House, $18,903
- Shawsheen Well Site Improvements, $87,330
- Stormwater Permit Requirements, $137,500
- Water Tank Rehabilitation, $30,794
- Sewer Pump Station, $453,522
- Water Main Improvement Project, $869,500
- Water Quality Improvements and SCADA, $200,000
- Large Dump Truck Replacement, $265,000
- Public Safety Software, $810,000
- Transportation Improvements, $375,000