As the clock ticks down to the May 10 Annual Town Meeting for Mattapoisett voters, Town Administrator Mike Lorenco and his finance team at Town Hall continue to prepare spreadsheets and supporting documents. These pieces of information then are shared with both Capital Planning and Finance Committee members, as those volunteers continue to ask questions, the answers of which will further the FY22 pencil-sharpening process.
But one line item that is hard to trim remains the cost of road improvements.
During March 24 and 25 meetings with FinCom and Capital Planning, Lorenco shared information on the village streets project, Pearl Street improvements, Industrial Drive reconstruction, and the possibility of borrowing.
The village streets project, Main, Water, and Beacon Streets, is still working towards a 25-percent design goal, Lorenco said. He reported from recent discussions with consultants VHB that the project is on the state’s FY26 TIP funding schedule, although the hope had been for an earlier placement. The whole construction project has been pegged at approximately $7 million.
As Lorenco had shared during the recent Board of Selectmen meeting, VHB has received $250,000 thus far, and needs another $175,000 to reach the 75-percent design stage. Once the 25-percent design stage is achieved, however, those documents will be sent along to the Department of Transportation and Southeastern Regional Planning & Economic Development District (SRPEDD) for review.
Regarding the reconstruction of Pearl Street, Lorenco told both committees that there are monies in hand to do the water and sewer portions and that, while a Complete Streets grant for sidewalks from Route 6 to Church Street is awaiting acceptance, another $750,000 would be needed for the job to be completed.
Lorenco discussed funding options, including the possibility of borrowing enough to pay for both Pearl Street and some of the funding needed for Industrial Drive. He explained that it might be possible to borrow using a short-term loan or bond anticipation note, but said, “I’m not recommending long-term debt; it’s too expensive.”
Drilling the numbers a bit further on what is possible, Lorenco said that the cost of borrowing up to $2,600,000, which would cover both Pearl Street and the town’s portion of Industrial Drive, could be added to the tax levy, resulting in approximately $26 per year for 20 years.
In a follow-up, Lorenco said that he is providing the town with various funding options for roadwork construction projects and that borrowing has not been fully vetted at this time. He also said that no money for Industrial Drive may be secured through borrowing without grants in hand. Presently, the estimate for that reconstruction project amounts to $935,000 coming from the town coffers and an equal sum from grant matches.
Addressing the Industrial Drive project, Selectman Jordan Collyer stated during the March 24 Board of Selectman meeting, “We wouldn’t do anything if no grants come through.”
In other business, during the Capital Planning meeting, the prioritization of requests was shared. The list from highest priority to lowest is a new police cruiser at $55,000, fire boat replacement pontoons at $14,500, Highway Department sidearm mower at $85,000, local schools phone system upgrade at $42,889, Center School floor repairs at $25,000, library roof and skylight repairs at $18,500, and waterfront repair engineering at Long Wharf at $54,000 for a total of $294,889 coming from free cash.
Other capital expenses approved by the committee were $250,000 coming from debt exclusion for roadway repairs; $90,000 from the Water Enterprise Fund for various expenses, including $25,000 for new building conceptual designs; $95,000 from the Sewer Enterprise Fund, which also includes $25,000 for new building conceptual designs; and a police cruiser from the tax levy for $55,000.
Next stop for the Capital Planning FY22 list: The Board of Selectmen.
Regarding a new Transfer Station loader, which has been a discussion item during various committee meetings, Chairman Chuck McCullough suggested a cautious wait-and-see approach, not allocating any money for new equipment at this time given that an in-use aging piece is “limping along,” and that a study on the entire Transfer Station operation will be commencing soon.
During the Finance Committee meeting, members reviewed FY22 line items covering salaries and department head raises. Lorenco said that the Department of Revenue had approved merit raise procedures versus a standard 2-percent annual raise, and that a full explanation would be given at Town Meeting. Possible changes to the conservation agent position and upgrades to the position of assistant to the town administrator were also aired. Lorenco said that, currently, $35,000 is scheduled for those salary increases, but that he believes not all of it would be needed.
The possibility of the town moving away from the elected position of highway surveyor to a town engineer was explored. Lorenco said a preliminary review of what other towns are paying for an all-inclusive town engineer found New Bedford paying between $75,000 and $110,000 for several employees; Lakeville and Kingston are each paying $80,000, while Dartmouth has four engineers earning between $80,000 and $100,000. Fairhaven is also in the process of evaluating its need for a town engineer. Earlier in the meeting, member Tyler Macallister asked if the town had calculated any savings on supplies normally consumed at the schools when in full session, given school closing and hybrid models. Lorenco said he would look into that.
The $24,000 assessment from Bristol County Agricultural High School was also discussed with Lorenco saying that a meeting is scheduled with the school. “I don’t believe we should be assessed,” he said, adding that Rochester is looking at nearly $90,000. These assessments, Lorenco had previously stated, were based on a borrowing that Bristol Aggie had taken for school construction. However, not all towns sending students to Bristol Aggie were never granted the opportunity to participate in that spending decision.
The next meeting of the Mattapoisett Finance Committee is scheduled for Thursday, April 1, at 4:00 pm. Capital Planning’s next meeting has yet to be announced.
Mattapoisett Capital Planning and Finance committees
By Marilou Newell