New Canaan Town Council approves $90 million capital plan
Published 3:16 pm, Wednesday, March 25, 2015
After a five-month process, the Town Council has approved a $90 million preliminary five-year capital plan, which will be established to better help the town identify and plan to fund projects on an ongoing basis.
"This is something we need to do, period, and we're told it is better to have more things on the plan than not on the plan," Town Council Chairman Bill Walbert said. "In the end, it is a plan, a blueprint, and every year priorities will change and every year projects might change."
The plan, which officials referred to as an "outline" for the town's capital needs, is made up of lists from each town department, ranking up to 10 projects by order of priority, and their expected capital needs through 2020. The plan is expected to carry about $15 million in debt service a year, about $11 million of it paid toward principal, officials said.
The plan is required for the town to receive certain state grants, and is required by the town charter.
Budget Director Jennifer Charneski said in future years the annual reassessment of the plan should help better forecast the cost of the town's capital needs as town department heads track changes in buildings, equipment and other assets for upcoming significant needs or replacement.
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"We've been working with the departments to get more structure to this," Charneski said. "We shouldn't be seeing a lot of unexpected items popping up in year one. ... I think after a couple of years of doing this it will naturally smooth itself because the departments will start to think along the lines of a five-year plan. ... I think you start looking at it a little differently once you see what else is hanging out there."
Some of the bigger items on the list as it stands is $2.1 million to repair and upgrade the New Canaan Playhouse, $3.5 million to renovate various municipal playing fields through 2020, and $17.1 million in spending for various upgrades in the public schools during that span.
Kathleen Corbet, a town council member, said the list merits further discussion once the town's budget season was over to better understand the priorities in future years.
"This is a great plan and we all have ideas for how to modify it," Corbet said. "That would be better done outside of budget season when we can perhaps bring it back for review."
Developing more specific financial projections about tax impact and debt service associated with pursuing each tier of projects by priority would make the plan a better guide to town leaders, a primer on just how aggressive a building and improvement schedule can be accomplished while limiting tax increases to an acceptable range annually, Town Council member John Engel said.
"I don't want to penalize anybody. I just want to know the implications of taking all the No. 1 priority projects," Engel said. "Then I could begin to begin to see the implications on the mill rate and taxes if we do projects on the list (ranked) 1, 2, and 3."
Charneski said that the tax implications of the plan would be an entire new analysis, but, in response to Engel's suggestion, said they could develop some system of ranking projects head-to-head across departments so pressing needs don't languish.
"What we can do is come up with a kind of next level that then ranks all the town side requests against each other," Charneski said. "What is a No. 3 in one department might be more important than a No. 1 priority project in another."
The town has had longer-term capital project lists it has used during the bonding process for work, but hadn't approved them by official vote, First Selectmen Rob Mallozzi said.
The Saxe Middle School Auditorium renovation project, which has grown from a $2.5 million to $12 million project, is an example of the type of project that might force officials to reexamine priorities, Mallozzi said. Now they have an easier reference document to do so, Mallozzi said.
"We're not locking ourselves into a plan," Mallozzi said. "This is a very, very fluid document and every year there is something that changes around. Who would have imagined five months ago that the Saxe project would have gone from $2.5 million to $12 million. Things change."