BOS discusses timeline for capital projects
The Board of Selectmen spent a substantial portion of its regular meeting Monday night discussing a possible timeline for three upcoming capital projects. The debate centered around whether to begin the three projects at the same time or stagger them.
If staggered, the projects would occur in the following order: moving the senior center to Town Hall in January 2011 and the Board of Education's central offices to the old library site at 35 Leroy Ave. in September 2011; renovating facilities at Weed Beach in September 2011; and updating the Darien Police Station at 25 Hecker Ave. in March 2012, according to Republican First Selectman David Campbell.
While the Weed Beach project was originally slated to total $3.6 million, including $2 million in bonding and $1.6 million from the general fund, Campbell has now said he doesn't want to use money from the general fund.
"Weed Beach will go forward with $2 million. This would allow for the new bathhouse. Murry [Stegelmann] and Martha [Banks] do not want to se money from the general fund, as was proposed before the recession, on Weed Beach. I agree, if the Park and Rec Commission wants more money, they must ask the RTM for additional bonding," Campbell wrote in an e-mail to Town officials on Sunday.
The building permit for the police building, approved in April 2009, quotes the price of that project as $14.7 million, and a recent senior center feasibility report, compiled by Beinfield Architects, lists the price for the senior center shuffle at $3.4 million.
The three Republican Board members said they would like to see the projects staggered as outlined by Campbell, in an effort to minimize the burden to the taxpayers of Darien.
"By [staggering the projects] we wouldn't need to bond $24 million ... all at once. The most our bonding level would get to with the staggered start is $83 million. If we started everything together, the bonding would get around $97 million," Campbell said during Monday's meeting.
"There's no better time than right now to build. The debt services rates are the lowest they've been historically. They're down around 3 percent. Building costs have been down considerably in the last couple years," he said.
"If we did the police station and everything first, you're bonding $14 million more upfront than you would a year-and-a-half from now. The reason I wanted to put it off for a year-and-a-half is because we are decreasing the debt level by $6 million to $7 million a year. That's how we even out the cost to the taxpayers," Campbell said Tuesday morning.
Republican Selectman Jerry Nielsen said he agrees that the projects need to be staggered, though he is not yet certain which order would be best.
"I think it has to be staggered. It's just a matter of what's going to go first. I think we're going to have more discussion through August and hear different views on that. I'll stay open minded," he said. "I do not believe we can release them all this fall and say `Let's go.' For the first couple years, it will increase taxes too much in an economy that's extremely difficult."
The decision of staggering the projects has nothing to do with the merits of the individual improvements, the Republicans stated.
"In my mind there isn't one of these three projects that is more important than another. We have let our facilities go for so long that everything, unfortunately, is a priority," Republican Selectman Jayme Stevenson said Tuesday.
"The responsible thing to do is to stagger the projects in a way that creates the most minimal taxpayer burden to the citizens of Darien. If taxpayers feel differently, I would certainly love to hear it," she said.
Campbell said in his mind, the priority level is tied solely to the all-mighty dollar.
"There's no priority based on the constituent. The priority is based on what the tax consequence is to the taxpayer. That's the priority. You can call it Box 1, Box 2, Box 3 and Box 4. Don't even say what's in those boxes," he said.
"I don't think you can divorce the merits of the projects from the dollars," Bayne said Tuesday.
"I still strongly believe the police station needs to be started now. ... The cost will never be lower. We're scraping the bottom of the construction market and interest rates will never be lower," he said. "To push the police station out two years is to really take a roll of the dice with respect to the cost of the project.
"We know it's $1-million-and-change less than it was first projected to be," Bayne said. "There's no better time to do this, and this is the biggest chunk of the capital projects we've got. It's better to do it now than at a higher cost along the line."
As to whether the projects should be staggered or initiated at the same time, Bayne said he would like the information to be fleshed out before making a final decision on that. But in the meantime, he's ready for shovels to hit the ground on Hecker Avenue, he said.
"In my opinion, we should bite the biggest issue now while the timing is right and the need is clearly there. The project is shovel-ready and clear to go. All we need to do is put it out to bid," he said.
Sullivan did not state at the meeting whether she supported a staggered start as opposed to an all-at-once option.
"The purpose of this meeting is to talk about the possibilities of how we would stagger the projects," she said.
"From my perspective, having already voted once on doing the police station and once on Weed Beach ... I think that they should not be the things that we hold, and I would have liked to have seen [an option] where the staggered project starts didn't have the police department as being last, but they were up front," she said.
"My biggest concern is not just the capital [costs], but it's the operating expenses because our operating budgets have really been stressed over the last two years," she said.
The Board did not reach a decision as to how the projects would be scheduled during the meeting.
Stevenson suggested the Board take time to think about the options and discuss them with the public and vote in September.
"The decision will be made in September, maybe earlier," Campbell said Tuesday morning. The next regular meeting of the Board of Selectmen is scheduled for Monday, Aug. 2.