Each year, local officials engage in a lengthy process to establish a budget for all town services. This work culminates in a vote at the annual town meeting in May, where residents have the final say in whether or not the recommended budget receives approval. This three-part series will break down the budget process into three components – capital planning, schools and general town operations.
LONGMEADOW – When the town’s annual budget is created, approximately three percent of the general fund’s operating revenue is set aside for larger projects and purchases through the capital planning process. This year, the amount designated for these projects sits at just under $1.9 million.
According to Select Board policy, a capital project is work on or purchase of a fixed facility, object or asset, costing equal to or more than $25,000 with an estimated useful life of five years or more. The goal of the capital improvement program is to improve and upgrade existing capital assets to extend their useful life, or build or acquire needed and new capital assets. These are considered investments because the money expended is used to reduce costs, improve efficiency and/or improve services over a multi-year timeframe.
Capital assets include land, improvements to land, buildings, building improvements, vehicles, machinery, equipment, works of art and historical treasures, infrastructure, construction in progress and all other tangible and intangible assets that are used in operations. Infrastructure assets are long-lived capital assets that normally are stationary in nature and can be preserved for a significantly greater number of years than many capital assets. Examples include roads, bridges and related drainage systems, sidewalks, water and sewer distribution systems and information technology systems.
Capital Planning Committee Chairman Stephen Metz said his group spent the last several months discussing proposed projects submitted by town department heads, gathering input and public comment. Now, the committee has presented its recommendations to the Select Board for inclusion in the fiscal year 2019 town budget that total $1,922,000.
“We tried to stay below that level ($1.89 million) and still tackle as many projects as we could,” said Metz. “In our conversations, we were able to budget for all but five of the capital projects requested. There may be some funds left over from fiscal year 2018 we could use to offset (the $32,000 difference), or we hope the Select Board can find this small amount of funds somewhere else because we believe all of these projects will benefit the town significantly.”
Projects and purchases recommended by the Capital Planning Committee include fire escapes at the Community House and Town Hall for $36,000; repair of the north side exterior wall at the library for $37,000; $150,000 for the fire engine fund; $600,000 for pavement preservation; $425,000 for sidewalk reconstruction; $52,000 for ongoing work on the Community House road; $25,000 for guardrail replacement; $75,000 for refinishing the fire department’s floor; $175,000 for dump truck; $144,000 for replacement of the boiler at Wolf Swamp Road School; a zero-turn mower for $26,000, and three trucks for $142,270. The recommendation also includes $25,000 for project development and $10,000 for project reserve.
Metz said a few proposed projects did not make the cut. Some were eliminated because they were lower priority, or did not fit the criteria for a capital purchase. One example is a surveillance camera project for town and school buildings.
“We didn’t receive any further details about that project, and we thought it would be best to wait until we did get more information,” said Metz.
A sidewalk snowplow requested by the Department of Public Works was also left off the list to make room for other equipment.
Metz noted that one project was left off the list due to its cost and complexity.
“Probably the most expensive but important project is replacement of the Morningside Drive culvert,” said Metz. “But that one project would have taken up about one-third of the capital budget. If we accepted that request, it would be impossible to fill most of the town’s other requests, so we asked the Select Board and (Town Manager) Stephen Crane to explore other options to fund it. We agree it is very important, but it would be at the expense of a whole lot of other things the town needs.”
Crane noted that the Morningside Drive project may be large enough to tackle through a bond issue, noting that is how the town paid to fix a similar problem several years ago on Crestview Circle.
“The steel culvert in the dingle (on Morningside Drive) is rotted, undersized and in danger of collapse,” said Crane.
Metz said another project brought to the Capital Planning Committee that was not recommended would have provided automated emergency devices (AEDs) for the schools. These devices have been mandated by the state.
“They are very important and very much needed, but we don’t feel they meet the minimum threshold for cost and life span required to be considered as part of the capital budget,” said Metz.
Also not recommended by the Capital Planning Committee was $50,600 for refinishing the pool at Longmeadow High School. Crane said he is still hoping to see that item included.
He noted that when the school was built, “free labor” painted the inside of the pool. Citing “you get what you pay for,” Crane noted that the original paint job has since failed. The flaking paint is now causing equipment issues, shortening the lifespan of the filters and other equipment within the pool. He said the pool will need to be drained, sandblasted and re-painted.
“It’s a lesson learned, but we have to make it right,” he said.
– Article by Sarah Leete Tsitso