Chairman’s View: Picking priorities

“I do have to pick my priorities. Nobody can do everything.” — Ray Kurzweil
We held the first joint offsite meeting among the four funding bodies (Board of Selectmen, Town Council, Board of Education, Board of Finance) in over 10 years, an important step toward approaching our town and school budgets with a spirit of cooperation.
Critical takeaways: 10 of us think that the budget is driven by the Board of Finance, 10 believe we all share it, and nine votes were scattered among Town Council, Board of Education and Board of Selectmen. It’s a shared responsibility but clearly, the BOF is driving the bus. Most of us believe that the budget should come in at an increase of between 0% and 1% this year, a big change since last year’s debates between 2% and 3.5%. We agreed a joint meeting should bookend the budget process every year: November and May. And, support was nearly unanimous for conducting a professional town-wide survey.
We had our last forum on town buildings in April. It is time to listen again. The Town Council is scheduling a public hearing for Wednesday, Jan. 9, to solicit input from the public and discuss our buildings within the context of the 5-year Capital Plan. Why is it necessary and why now? In April the focus was on preservation of important buildings and the need to decrease building expenses. There have been several articles over the last six months floating different possibilities for the Library, the repurposing or demolishing of Irwin House, purchasing the Covia Building, renovating the old Police Station (or repurposing it as housing), selling the Vine Cottage and renting the Outback. These options are interrelated and now we know the costs. Some of these initiatives should be put in the Capital Plan and others removed. We need to get serious and specific about our priorities and make sure they are accurately reflected in the Capital Plan and this year’s budget, reflecting the towns people’s appetite.
The Library was put in the 5-Year Capital Plan for $5 million by First Selectman Robert Mallozzi. It would help the Library board secure additional private funding and allow them to “think big” if we put the Library in the plan for $10 million. That is incredibly hard to do during the revaluation, but if we were to plan for a matching gift, 2-1 behind private donations, and stretch that commitment from three years to potentially five years it works within current Board of Finance guidance. I believe a $10 million earmark has the support from the majority of the selectmen and Town Council. If the Library cannot raise $20 million then Town Hall is not committed. But, by signaling a cap of $5 million in the capital plan, the Board of Finance is essentially killing the project. If you feel strongly that a new library will be transformational to the health of our downtown, let the Town Council and Board of Finance know.