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The Cheshire Town Council cut more than $3 million from the proposed 2011/2012 Capital Budget in an effort to lessen the impact on taxpayers in a difficult economic climate.
Of the 20 proposed projects in the first year of the five-year Capital Expenditure Plan, five were reduced or moved to a different year. The first-year proposal was cut from $38 million to $34.8 million in an effort to make room for the multi-million dollar Wastewater Treatment Plant upgrades. The plant will head to referendum this fall with a price tag of $30 million, but as much as $7 million could be contributed by the Department of Correction.
Town Council Budget Committee Chairman David Schrumm explained some projects had to be reduced or removed from the first year plan in order to "to make room" for the $30 million upgrade.
"This is not a surprise. We knew this was coming," Schrumm explained. "We tried to clear the decks in the plan. We did not load up this year with a lot of other stuff to try to make room for the $30 million."
In an effort to keep the referendum ballot minimal, the $2.5 million proposal to expand the Linear Trail from West Main Street to Jarvis Street was pushed into year two of the five-year plan. Future years, or out years, generally serve as placeholders and as a roadmap of future expenditures. Just because a project is in a future year does not mean it will be completed in that year, however. Schrumm stated that the Council "wanted to get a better handle on costs" of that section of trail before sending it out to the voters for approval. The $2.5 million proposal is just an estimate, and over the next year some money will be spent on the design of the trail so more concrete numbers are established.
The state has promised the Town that it would pay for the design and construction of the Cornwall Avenue to West Main Street piece and the Jarvis Street to the Southington town line section of the trail. The lone part left for the town is the section from West Main to Jarvis, Schrumm explained. There is already $800,000 in grant funding available for that section, and the Town should learn in the next few months if another grant is approved that will cover up to 80 percent of the costs.
However, for voters, the "800-pound gorilla in the room" is the treatment plant upgrades, Schrumm explained. He hopes that, with money from the DOC for its share of capacity and a competitive construction environment, the overall costs could be reduced significantly from the $30 million. The upgrades would update the 40-year-old equipment in the plant and make it run more efficiently, but the money would not expand its capacity. Schrumm explained that not all of the money is going to be borrowed immediately, as construction will be spread out over three to four years, as will the bonds the Town issues.
The Town also has $4.3 million in a debt reserve fund to help smooth out any spikes in future years, to help limit the burden on taxpayers, Schrumm stated.
"It's a very significant project. We've been planning this from a financial standpoint for a few years. This is the year to do it and get it behind us," he said. "You can't argue with the face that sanitary sewers are a pretty fundamental issue of government. Keeping it in shape is a priority."
The other referendum item on this year's ballot will be $1.5 million for road repairs. Schrumm confirmed that the Town anticipates spending that much annually for at least the next five years to keep up with the deteriorating road network.
"We did a lot of roads this summer and we will do a lot more next summer," he said.
The Council also moved a $350,000 request to install water mains to the second year of the plan. A $200,000 request for a Public Works dump truck was reduced by $50,000, as Schrumm noted that it didn't have to be a "really big dump truck," it could be a "normal truck." The Council also reduced a $250,000 request from the Board of Education for the 21st Century Classroom, or SMART Boards, by half. It is the same funding amount the BOE received last year, Schrumm explained.
Other education requests — $125,000 to repair roofs, $270,000 to replace floors and $340,000 to do remediation on the utility tunnels at the high school — were left untouched in year one. Other big-ticket items in the first year of the plan include $350,000 for a technology reserve fund, $300,000 to install new brick pavers around Town Hall and the town center, and $120,000 for firefighting equipment.
The Council plans to meet on Monday, Aug. 29 at 7:30 p.m. in Town Hall to adopt the budget.