Town wants to streamline capital budget process

Thu, 11/18/2021 - 8:15pm

Town Manager Maryanne Crawford appeared before the Planning Board on November 10 to let the board know about the changes she was submitting to the Town
Council regarding the ordinance governing capital improvements. Per the ordinance, the capital improvement program is the town’s plan for long- and short-range physical development, linking the town’s comprehensive plan and fiscal plan to physical development. Capital improvement projects include acquisition of land, construction of new buildings or facilities, major improvements, renovations, or extensions of existing buildings beyond normal maintenance, and purchases of major
items or pieces of equipment.
One proposed change is to raise the cost threshold for a capital improvement project from $10,000 to $25,000. Items under this threshold can be financed by the town without going through the capital budget process. Planning Board Chair Margie Comings asked Crawford how she arrived at the $25,000 number, agreeing that $10,000 was too low, but that $25,000 might be too high. Crawford responded that she had seen the cap as high as $50,000 in other places, but thought that number to be too high as well, so she settled on $25,000.
Member Chris Willi pointed out that not many capital budget items actually fall below the proposed $25,000 limit anyway. “My concern is that there are things that have been brought forward that don’t even make it to the Planning Board. They get dropped.” Willi went on to say that in his various roles as a department head over
the years, he had seen items requested that were cut out of the budget or deferred for a prolonged period of time. “We kick things down the road,” he said.
The bigger change proposed to the ordinance is the idea that the Planning Board would no longer be involved in the compilation of the items presented for the capital improvement budget. Crawford’s recommended changes remove the Planning Board from this role, instead charging the town manager to meet with each department head, along with the finance director, to determine the list. The town manager will then develop a compilation of the requests and the sources of funding and present the completed list to the Planning Board. At that time, the board can notify the town manager if any of the items on the list conflict with the Comprehensive Community Plan. At present, the ordinance calls for the Planning Board to be involved in meeting with department heads and compiling the list of capital improvements in conjunction with the town manager.
The proposed changes also establish the town manager as the sole authority in prioritizing and scheduling the projects once they are approved, and establishes the Town Council as the site of presentations and public comment on the projects.
These changes will effectively take the Planning Board out of its previous roles in the planning process, if they are approved by the Town Council. A public hearing will
be held Dec. 15.
While Comings conceded that there needed to be a more efficient method than the old way of countless planning board meetings, she expressed concern about the board losing its voice. She asked for an addendum to the changes to allow for the Planning Board to express to the Town Council any concerns it may have over an
omitted item. “We need to make sure there is a mechanism to let the Town Council know we are in disagreement over an item and why.”
Crawford assured the board it would see the list “and give feedback,” although she pointed out the feedback would not necessarily be binding.