The Rochester Board of Selectmen have taken under advisement a $1.2 million town hall annex project proposed by the Town Hall Annex Study Committee on February 6 as a more palatable option to both selectmen and tax payers.
But don’t expect to hear a whole lot of discussion over the next few months, as the selectmen have already decided that the matter will not appear on the Annual Town Meeting Warrant this year, and annex committee member Arnold Johnson has stated that the annex committee will likely not meet for some time to come as the selectmen consider the option.
Annex committee Chairman Richard Cutler said, after the Special Town Meeting when voters turned down an article for $20,000 to fund an onus project manager, he approached the Finance Committee to ascertain what amount the committee would support for a new construction.
“We went back and forth, and the Finance Committee basically said they could support … $1.2 million and it would have no impact on the tax base in Rochester,” Cutler said.
That amount, said Cutler, would allow for a town annex slightly larger than the one the Town currently rents over at the Women’s Club, with an additional conference room, at $400 per square foot.
Having said that, the committee will not be able to provide anything concrete in terms of figures until Town Meeting approves the funding for the onus project manager.
The $1.2 million includes all hard and soft costs, as was reiterated throughout the evening as residents and selectmen alike asked questions about possible hidden costs.
Finance Committee Chairman Christian Stoltenberg said retirement of debt in the upcoming years would allow for a $1.2 million town hall annex at no additional cost to taxpayers, even with interest on the loan, with an increase in the tax base over the next few years, and the ensuing retirement of prior debt. This included taking into account the $30,000 the town currently pays for rent at the Women’s Club as part of the cost.
Stoltenberg suggested the selectmen have ample time to consider the option and recommended they withhold adding the option to the Annual Town Meeting, saying that the lease the town currently holds with the Women’s Club does not expire until 2019.
“We’re not in any pressure or any kind of a dire concern,” said Stoltenberg. “We have options…. Whether you want to bring it forward this year, or do you want to wait, because we have some time.”
Selectman Richard Nunes pointed out that 2019 is not far away.
“We start tomorrow, we’d be finished in 2019,” Nunes said. “We could put it back on the warrant for the Annual Town Meeting … it’ll take two years to build it out.” He continued, “So if we wait a year or we wait two years, then we’ll be in the position again of having to re-negotiate a lease again.”
Nunes advocated for moving forward with the option sooner, rather than later.
Johnson agreed, saying taking the option under advisement was his preference.
“I think in another year … the Town will have a better revenue projection,” said Johnson. There are a few commercial properties coming online this year and next year, he added, “And that’ll help with our tax base…and we’ll have a better indication of where the federal government is going.”
Johnson said the Town could likely re-negotiate a one-year lease in 2019 if needed.
A few residents asked questions about specific number amounts and costs, to which Stoltenberg offered his best explanation, although in this preliminary process, no fixed numbers were available.
Johnson objected to the Finance Committee and annex committee being interrogated too harshly at this point during a regular public meeting as opposed to a public hearing on the matter, but Board of Selectmen Chairman Naida Parker allowed the residents to ask questions, even though mostly they could not be answered as of yet.
One resident asked about the cost of renting versus the cost of building, which of course would be somewhat higher, but Nunes offered this in response:
“Paying rent isn’t gonna solve our problems.” Nunes continued, “That’s money just going out the window. We can kick this can down the road … and continue to pay rent and we may have to re-negotiate another lease, possibly at a higher rate, but rent isn’t the answer.”
Selectman Brad Morse motioned to take the matter under advisement and to omit it from the Annual Town Meeting Warrant, which was seconded and voted upon unanimously.
The next meeting of the Rochester Board of Selectmen is scheduled for February 13 at 6:30 pm at the Rochester Town Hall.
By Jean Perry