Voters to weigh in on budget, projects

Monday, May 7
Fri, 05/04/2018 - 9:30am

Several big-ticket items and a slightly increased fiscal year 2019 operating and capital budget will be on the docket for this year’s Financial Town Meeting. This year’s FTM is Monday, May 7 at 7 p.m. at the Block Island School. The Town of New Shoreham’s registered voters will join the Town Council, Town Manager, and Finance Director in the school cafeteria to cast their votes at the FTM. 

“I encourage the entire Block Island community to be part of the process,” said Town Manager Ed Roberge. “The Financial Town Meeting is a unique opportunity where every registered voter has a seat at the table to consider budgets, programs, and major projects that shape our future. Hope to see you there.”

Stabilizing the West Beach shoreline ($1.995 million), constructing a town employee rental housing campus ($1.5 million), and installing a community anchor institution, high-speed broadband network ($550,000) are the big-ticket bond items on this year’s Warrant that will be voted on at the FTM. Voter approval means that the town would have the authority to borrow the necessary monies for these projects.

Registered voters will also vote on a $14,477,968 fiscal year 2019 annual operating and capital budget, which represents a $445,192 increase, or 3.2 percent, over the 2018 budget.

West Beach stabilization

The most expensive of the big-ticket items is the $1.995 million stabilization of the West Beach shoreline where the old landfill has been breached and exposed due to storm surge and erosion. The lowest bid amount for the project was $1,929,800, submitted by Pawtucket-based RC&D, Inc., which was awarded the contract. With the addition of administrative costs and contingency funds the town will ask voters to approve a total budget for the project that’s close to $2 million.

According to Town Finance Director Amy Land, and assuming a 4 percent interest rate over 20 years, the $1.9 million bond will have an annual debt service of $145,874, and an annual cost of $70 per one million of assessed property value. 

The project’s contractor will be tasked with removing trash and metal from the shoreline, reburying it on town-owned land adjacent to the Transfer Station, and then capping it with material. The contractor will construct a 3-to-1 grade revetment comprised of stone to armor the shoreline. If voter approved, the project would have a completion date of May 22, 2019, with work activities being restricted between May 25, 2018 and Sept. 7, 2018.

Town employee rental housing

The town will ask voters to fund a town employee rental housing project on the Thomas Property for $1.5 million that will involve constructing two dwellings to house six town employees and the Town Manager. Councilor Sven Risom proposed the project after Town Manager Ed Roberge’s original proposal to fund acquisition of an existing market-ready residential property for $1.125 million was not favorably received.

Each occupant of the property would pay rent, which would go toward paying down the $1.5 million bond. The bond would add $109,680 annually to the town’s debt service, and add an annual cost of $53 per one million of assessed property value.

Risom’s proposal involves construction of two separate dwellings on the Thomas Property. One dwelling would have six bedrooms, six bathrooms, a kitchen and a common area for an estimated cost of about $1.050 million to house six town employees: two policeman, two members of the Medical Center, and personnel from the school. 

The other dwelling would house a senior town employee, in this case the town manager, and would be either a prefab or modular home on the southeastern corner of the property, costing about $450,000.

If approved by voters, the Town Council will direct the town manager to complete construction of the project by the summer of 2019. Roberge is scheduled to vacate his leased apartment by May of 2019.

CAI broadband network

The New Shoreham Broadband Committee is asking voters to approve its $550,000 community anchor institution broadband network project that will facilitate construction of a high-speed network to connect five town facilities to the fiber optics in National Grid’s sea2shore cable. The Committee is also asking voters to approve $125,000 to hire a consultant to advise the town when it comes to the installion of an island-wide broadband network.

The total project cost is $675,000, but will be offset by contributions from the Block Island School ($65,000), Medical Center ($50,000), and Island Free Library ($35,000), and will also connect the public safety complex, and Town Hall. Land said other grant possibilities will be looked into, and also noted that grant or loan monies will more likely be available for the island-wide project. 

The debt service of the $550,000 bond would be $40,216 over 20 years, or $19.23 in taxes annually per one million of assessed property value. The $125,000 bond issue will add an estimated $9,140 to the town’s annual debt service, and cost $4 per one million of assessed property value.

If approved, the construction and installation of the CAI network is proposed for a Sept. 2018 completion.

FY 2019 budget

The fiscal year 2019 budget overview states that the town’s priorities are to: improve critical infrastructure, to foster vibrancy, inclusivity and sustainability, focus on technology and innovation, and to stay committed to protecting the most vulnerable members of the community. 

Voters will vote to approve the fiscal year 2019 general fund operating and capital budget of $14,477,968, with a 3.2 percent increase over the current 2018 budget.

The budget includes a 1.57 percent increase in the tax levy, with state law capping the levy increase at 4 percent. 

The town’s capital improvements program includes $8,000 for replacement of lights and light poles at Old Harbor; $15,000 for replacement of aid-to-navigation buoys at Old Harbor; $102,000 for replacement of the water line and maintenance needs at the Coast Guard Station; $5,000 for moving a public water line from the boat ramp to the proposed new dinghy dock; $29,525 for police vehicles; $20,500 for a specialized washer and dryer unit for Fire and Rescue; $40,000 for building improvements at the Medical Center; $47,000 for Highways Department needs; $200,000 for the Block Island School’s building and roof repairs; $11,085 for replacement of the Island Free Library’s server; $30,000 for a new Recreation Dept. truck; $25,000 for library renovations; and $30,000 for technology upgrades at Town Hall.

The 2019 debt service of $2,197,368 is an increase of $103,216 over 2018. 

The 2019 debt service is impacted by bonds for renovations to the Fred Benson Beach Pavilion, Doctor’s house, and Mill Pond Bridge. 

Included in the 2019 budget is an interest-only payment on the $1.8 million BIPCo purchase note, with the expectation that the note is repaid in full prior to November of 2018. 

Water and Sewer Commissions

The warrant questions related to water and sewer authorize the Town Treasurer to borrow funds, if needed, to maintain water and sewer operations while the Sewer Commission and Water Commission await the collection of user fees. The amount of the borrowing authorization is limited to 80 percent of the total expected annual revenue due; in the case of sewer, no more than $400,000, in the case of water, no more than $200,000. 

This is an authorization that appears annually on the FTM warrant and has not been utilized in recent years since cash reserves have been sufficient to cover operating costs.