Chatham Town Meeting Facing $5.3 Million In Capital Requests

By: Tim Wood

Topics: Airport , Town Meeting , Eldredge Public Library , Municipal Finance

Funds for the reconstruction of the parallel taxiway at Chatham Municipal Airport will be just one of several capital expenditures to go before voters at the May 14 annual town meeting. BENJAMIN THOMAS PHOTO

Articles Seek Funding For Airport, Library, COA, Dredging

This is the first of a three-part series looking at warrant articles for Chatham's May 14 annual town meeting.

CHATHAM – It's a big year for capital expenditures.

When all capital spending proposals are combined – the annual five-year capital improvement plan, water department capital projects and a half dozen special capital funding requests – voters will be asked to appropriate nearly $5.3 million at the May 14 annual town meeting.

Capital expenses break down this way: $2,038,255 in annual capital plan spending, which represents equipment and projects in the $5,000 to $250,000 range and is funded with free cash; $1,145,250 in four separate articles discussed below, funded through the tax rate; and $2,115,000 in water department projects funded through water revenue.

The four stand-alone articles were pulled out of the capital plan either because of the amount of funding involved or the board of selectmen's determination that the measures should be discussed separately. An example of the latter is Article 14, a $100,000 request for a feasibility study and hiring an owners project manager to complete conceptual designs for a new council on aging facility

Because a new senior center is a potentially expensive proposition – up to $10 million – selectmen wanted to allow debate on each step of the process. The town has done a space needs study and had a consultant sketch out conceptual floor plans for a senior center that would meet the council on aging's needs as spelled out in a far-ranging survey done more than a year ago. The current senior center, officials say, is lacking adequate space and is not in the greatest condition, and the town's population is aging, which will eventually lead to the need for more programs and services for the elderly.

Members of the finance committee, however, while supportive of improving the COA's facilities, question moving forward without a specific building site, with needs based on a “seemingly aggressive demand scenario,” and the lack of incorporating existing town facilities in a possible solution.

Selectmen, however, say hiring an owners project manager early in the process worked well with the fire station project, and having someone to provide technical assistance and expertise when looking at a site and possible designs will save the town money in the long run.

Article 17 also calls for less than the top figure allowed in the regular capital plan; it seeks $111,250 as the town's share of the overall $2.2 million cost of reconstructing the parallel taxiway at Chatham Municipal Airport. The federal government will pay 90 percent of the cost, $2 million, and the state the remaining $111,250. The work replaces the existing deteriorating taxiway and was included in the 2003 airport master plan updated. It is programmed for funding on the fiscal 2019 federal/state airport improvement program.

The largest of the four separate capital articles is Article 15, which seeks $483,000 for designs and landscaping, site and building improvements and upgrades to the Eldredge Public Library. The upgrades include improving parking lot and sidewalk safety, meeting access requirements and enhancing landscaping and drainage. The Pioneer Memorial in front of the library will be spruced up with funds sought in a separate community preservation article.

Finally, the town is seeking $450,000 for the first year of a long-term Nantucket Sound beach nourishment project in Article 16. Specifically targeted will be Cockle Cove and Harding's Beach, with additional funding being sought in 2020. Officials say they envision repeating the process every five to seven years due to continuing erosion.

The capital plan represents 6.68 percent of the $30 million operating budget, within the 3 to 7 percent target set by selectmen. The $2 million total was whittled down from $10.8 million in requests from department heads. Public works spending accounts for the highest department capital spending ($739,500), followed by equipment ($581,720), general government ($280,000), natural resources ($234,500) and public safety ($202,475). The budget includes funding for annual items such as road, sidewalk and building maintenance as well as individual items such as $100,000 for a phone and email system upgrade; $75,000 for generators; $9,000 for aerial shoreline condition photo surveys; and $20,000 for town landing infrastructure improvements (a list of capital items is included in the appendix in the warrant).

In its town meeting message, the finance committee states that “thoughtful decisions around the prioritization of capital projects need to be made by town leadership.” A lack of a framework for assessing capital projects has long been a fincom criticism. The selectmen and town manager acknowledge the need for evaluation criteria. These policies are currently being review and the Collins Center for Public Management at UMass Boston is assisting the town in development a capital improvement project and investment strategy to cover the years 2020 to 2025. In its message to voters, the fincom said it was “eager for the deployment” of the plan, which will provide a better understanding and analysis of capital needs and expenditures.

The water department capital articles include $1 million for water mains; $125,000 for design and engineering to complete wells 10 and 11; $150,000 for design and engineering for new water mains on Bridge Street; and $290,000 for a new supervisory control and data acquisition system, which helps run the day-to-day operations of the department. A $550,000 vactor truck will be shared with the department of public works. Water revenue covers all of the expenditures.