Capital Project Faces Potential $1 Million Shortfall

The Marion Board of Selectmen on January 15 endured the grunt work of preparing the numbers for a slew of proposed large-scale capital improvement projects to bring before the Capital Improvement Planning Committee on Thursday night ahead of Town Meeting.

Representatives from CDM Smith, the Town’s engineering firm that holds the contract for designing and overseeing all of these items pertaining to road infrastructure and wastewater treatment, guided the board through the minutia of projected and revised details and cost totals, all while the board contemplated breaking down some of the phases of work into smaller “bite-sized” jobs – in other words, work the Town could prioritize and still afford to fund.

We have a lot of these projects pending,” said Selectman Jon Waterman. “As we talk about dollar amounts, we also have to discuss ways of paying for them,” whether it be through an override, included in the budget, or some other financing plan.

Topping the agenda for the special phone conference call were Phase 1b and Phase 4 of the Village Capital Improvement Plan, which includes drainage, sidewalk repairs, and roadwork.

Chapter 90 funds from the state totaling $1 million will fund the $65,000 Pavement Improvement Plan and the $200,000-$300,000 Creek Road reconstruction, allocations that won’t require Town Meeting approval, but that money is expected to dwindle faster than it can be restored.

Waterman remained true to his desire to somehow move Phase 4 ahead in the schedule, but now instead of putting it before Phase 1b, Waterman wonders if some aspects of the two phases can run simultaneously in order to take advantage of the Commonwealth’s $400,000 Complete Street grant to help cover the cost of aspects of Phase 4, an opportunity that only allows one year for completion.

“That is something that we don’t want to lose,” Waterman said. But what concerns him, he said, is the state of the village sidewalks in comparison to the sidewalks on Spring Street, pitting Phase 1b against Phase 4, respectively.

“Simultaneous might be too much for us to take on and too much disruption in the village,” said Waterman. And with a price tag of $5 million, “That’s probably not gonna happen,” Selectmen Chairman Norm Hills told him.

But as Finance Director Judy Mooney pointed out, the cost of the $5 million projects should be broken up.

“Because you’ve got sewer in it, you’ve got roads in it, and possibly water,” said Mooney. “You can’t lump it all into a $5 million project because some of it’s going to affect the sewer rates; some of them are going to affect the tax rates …

“You need to delve into the numbers because when we first started talking about this,” Mooney continued, “some of it came out of … [grants], but then we also had to separate it out,” putting expenses into their proper departments – sewer, water, and the balance that would come out of tax revenue.

But, clearly, as Mooney pointed out, a debt exclusion will be likely, which requires Town Meeting approval and a subsequent ballot question vote.

“How hard is this to re-look at it … and see if we can juggle some of the parts of this project?” asked Hills.

“If the priority is just that (sidewalk) section of Front Street from Main to the Music Hall, then you could potentially pull that out,” said CDM’s Mike Guidice, just before Hills conceded that the group likely would not solve the entire equation during the phone call. Still, as Hills put it, the “driving force” behind the phone conference is the Thursday meeting during which Dawson will present the request to the Capital Improvement Planning Committee.

The board considered that the Town wouldn’t have to complete all the projects in Phase 1b, but instead add certain parts to Phase 4. “Meanwhile,” Hills wondered, “how do we make these bite-sized?”

“Phase 4 is but a name,” Dawson said. “What’s going to be important is how you’re going to take it to Town Meeting.”

But that is a matter for next year, as the board won’t have to ask Town Meeting for millions of dollars until next year when construction would begin. This year, Town Meeting will be asked to fund the remaining engineering, like the $457,000 design engineering for Phase 4.

As for the wastewater treatment plant upgrades and lining of lagoon 1, CDM presented the board with some significant shortfalls in the financing of the project to the tune of $1,135,000.

According to CDM Smith, the lagoon lining contract is out for bid, but the engineering firm is concerned about changes in budget estimates, including those for the miscellaneous treatment plant upgrades slated for this year and already approved by Town Meeting. Once bids close on January 31, the board should have a better understanding of the ultimate cost of the project.

CDM Smith also estimates another $80,000 for support and litigation, as the Town is still the defendant in an ongoing lawsuit launched by the Buzzards Bay Coalition related to groundwater pollution from the wastewater treatment plant.

In conclusion, the board understands that next year Town Meeting voters will likely be asked to approve roughly $3 million for the aforementioned phases of the infrastructure plan.

“We don’t want to go to the voters at Town Meeting looking for $3 million all at once,” said Dawson, who is retiring in two months. There must be a way to make those numbers seem less daunting, he suggested to CDM Smith.

The next regular meeting of the Marion Board of Selectmen is scheduled for January 22 at 7:00 pm at the Marion Town House.

Marion Board of Selectmen

By Jean Perry

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