The warrant for Annual Town Meeting in May remains in draft form and is far from complete.
Selectmen will devote time to some big ticket items and some nagging issues in need of funding resolution during their March 22 meeting.
There is little time left, however, for salesmanship on possible big-ticket warrant articles as drafted to date, though each expensive request would come forward with its own constituencies.
Articles could include a $6 million road/infrastructure bond request, $250,000 for enhanced school safety/security provisions, and a wastewater initiative in a form yet to be determined.
There are also Community Preservation Act funding possibilities, a debt exclusion request to rebuild the Sandwich Public Library interior and construct a new human services building and senior community center, as well as the lingering question about what to do with the closed Henry T. Wing School on Water Street.
A road bond might include school safety/security funding along with more joint public safety project borrowing to assure a lower interest rate in a bundled bonding package.
School security money might otherwise be sought via a capital outlay expenditure request. Its stock has been rising in recent weeks, notably after the school shooting in Parkland, Florida on February 14.
Roadwork upgrades and infrastructure improvements remain long-delayed municipal obligations. Improvements have been funded one year and then rejected by voters the next, with another request evolving. Selectmen are not sure what reception it would receive this time.
A wastewater initiative might involve a debt exclusion request to override Proposition 2½, or it could entail adoption of an infrastructure investment fund.
But there is doubt on this front. Wastewater treatment is a nagging municipal imperative. It has been for years, with various boards of selectmen all agreeing that serious economic development prospects are dependent on waste treatment in an area of town that could commercially develop.
“I don’t know if we can sell something in this short notice prior to Town Meeting,” Town Manager Bud Dunham advised selectmen. “I almost think it would have to be done in a special (session), and we’d need to get some focus from you guys on what to sell.”
“Same thing with the CPA,” Dunham said. “I don’t think you want to reduce that until you know what you’re talking about on CPA, because I keep thinking about that storm. What if we hadn’t done the Upper and Lower Shawme Pond (dams)? And the beach. The $2 million we got for the beach (sand) didn’t come from (new) taxes. It came from the CPA. So what if we didn’t have that?”
Dunham’s early warrant review was exhaustive. He said any possible debt exclusion request to fund the library reconstruction and human services proposals “likely won’t be ready to go in May”, not for it to win community support.
Then there is the Wing School. Dunham asked what information selectmen needed from him about the building ahead of voting on whether to bring the matter to Town Meeting. That prompted another round of Wing discussion.
Selectman Michael Miller said that when he ran for office, townspeople told him they don’t want the complex torn down. He said if a tear-down option were broached, the historical forces in town would oppose the measure, and the project would be costly.
Miller said voters might reject a proposal to centralize all town offices in the 1927 portion of the building.
“Then that would give us the direction, then we put the other option on,” he said. “To sell it or seek (requests for proposals) or whatever. And if they vote that down, we’ll be like the Clark-Haddad (building). Back and forth. But at least we’ll get some direction about what we should be doing with it.”
Selectman David Sampson said he likes the idea of consolidating town offices at 1927 Wing, with a caveat.
“But it’s very expensive,” he said. “And I don’t think the taxpayers have an appetite for that. So I don’t think that’s the first option. It’s likely to fail. Then we move to the disposal options.”
Sampson said all the requested feedback and Wing surveys in recent years have produced inconclusive results as far as the board being able to make a political or financial decision on the Wing School. He said the “best final option” is to tear the building down.
“Any other option is to reach into our pockets,” he said. “And that’s perfectly fine. Everybody has a right to do that.”
Selectman Robert George is not persuaded that a tear-down project is necessary. He maintains the 1927 building could optimally be renovated to house town government offices. He said schools across Massachusetts are routinely being reconditioned for new municipal uses.
Sampson asked Dunham if the $27 million to $30 million professional estimate to renovate the 1927 building was still viable. Dunham said it would, but he added his own fiscal caveat.
“Those figures were given to us over a year ago,” he said. “And we’d do that (renovation) when the (Cape Cod) Collaborative and the school (central offices) left. So you’d be speculating what the cost would be in three years. But we could work with the architects and get cost escalators and figure out what that cost would be.”
George, meanwhile, contests the professional view that “the building’s in bad shape.” He says it’s used day and night and could be utilized for offices.
Sampson reminded George, however, that when building usage pivots away from education purposes to municipal offices all kinds of building codes would have to be updated; from elevators to sprinklers to wiring to handicapped access.
“I don’t think we’re ready for a $30 million project request in eight weeks,” Sampson said. “I like the idea, I just don’t like the cost.”
Dunham said he would prepare a March 22 agenda in which selectmen can focus on the larger fiscal requests looming in May, items that carry policy decisions and implications. He said time is running short for appropriate article preparation and community presentation.
Sampson, acting board chairman, said members in the interim could think about the items.