Need for New Investments Looming


By Gregory T. Federspiel


s work continues to craft the proposed budget for the new fiscal year that will begin in July, it is increasingly clear that re-investing in our facilities and other infrastructure must be a high priority.  To make these investments requires significant sums of cash meaning we will need to borrow funds by issuing new bonds. And of course, new bonds require new repayment schedules, costs that are added to the property tax bill all property owners pay.

It has been decades since the Town (not including the School District) has made new large investments in its facilities. Indeed, we have been living off the investments made by others decades ago.  The DPW garage dates back to the early 1960’s.  The Police Station and Town Hall date back to 1970.  The Fire Station is of a similar vintage.  The wastewater treatment plant underwent important upgrades close to 20 years ago and many of the mechanical systems need replacement.  Both our water sources, the Lincoln Street well and Gravely Pond, likely require new filtration systems to remove PFAS chemicals.  And of course, replacing 100+ year old water pipes needs to continue. 

Over the last 10 years the Town has gradually increased the amount of funds dedicated to capital projects.  This was partly made possible by retiring old debt and redirecting the debt payments toward paying for the needed capital items.  This cash basis, now in the $3.5 million range, has worked well for the typical list of capital items such as vehicle replacements, road resurfacing and the replacement of sections of pipes.  However, larger facility upgrades like a new DPW garage and PFAS filtration require tens of millions of dollars which will require bonding.  

The new Facilities Master Plan, which can be found on the Town’s website, outlines the needs we have and a recommended sequence of projects.  However, there are more needs than can be reasonably paid for requiring some hard choices.  These choices are made even more difficult by the threats we face from rising seas and bigger storms.  Three critical facilities including the sewer plant, Town Hall/Police Station, and the Fire Station have already experienced flooding in the recent past which is only going to get worse.  How much money we put into trying to further protect these assets versus pursuing new locations will undoubtably be part of the debates we have in the coming years.  

For the upcoming Annual Town Meeting, slated this year for Wednesday, April 24th, voters will likely be asked to approve new bonds to pay for upgrades to the sewer plant, replacing water meters with new “smart meters” that give real time consumption data (very useful to spotting leaks before large amounts of water are wasted) and advancing the engineering and testing of the needed PFAS filtration systems.  

The Select Board and Finance Committee are discussing the option of helping to pay for the bonds through a new assessment on water users based on the size of one’s water meter.  These fees would be assessed quarterly along with the volume-based user fees currently charged. Such fixed rate fees provide a guaranteed income stream that does not vary with the amount of water a household uses.  It is likely additional general tax revenue would also have to be raised to pay the annual debt service on the new bonds.

The FY25 capital budget also will include a request for funds to advance the design work of a new DPW garage at the old compost site off Upper School Street.  As the most run-down of all town facilities and sitting on a property that could accommodate better uses, moving the operations is a high priority.  In addition, the capital budget seeks funding for a study of options for updating and possibly expanding the library.  State grant funds are available both for the study and construction phases should the Library be successful in its grant application.  Lastly, the capital budget is likely to have a request for funds to purchase a portion of the Masonic Lodge for use as a much-needed Senior/Community Center.  More on these last two requests in a future article.  All these items are anticipated to be funded by cash.