Wilton’s Board of Finance (BOF) held a special meeting Monday night, April 25 to make its final preparations for the rapidly approaching Annual Town Meeting (ATM).
Now that the BOF has approved the $86.7 million budget proposed by the Board of Education and the $33.9 million budget by the Board of Selectmen, the BOF also needed to review the capital bonded projects which the BOS has recommended for FY2023.
The April 25 meeting served as a dry run of sorts for all of the bonding referendums that will be presented to voters at the ATM next Tuesday, May 3. If all of the proposals meet voter approval, a total of $19.5 million will be bonded.
Residents who attend the ATM may vote that evening, with an additional day of voting on Saturday, May 7.
First Selectwoman Lynne Vanderslice began with an overview of the proposed new Wilton Police Department headquarters. At $16.4 million, it is the most sizable of all the bonding proposals.
After Wilton voters rejected a proposal to expand the headquarters (as part of a larger overhaul of the municipal campus) in 2004, the facility continued to languish without any significant improvements. Addressing the police station’s deficiencies has become a priority for Vanderslice, who believes the work is long overdue.
“It’s way beyond the need for replacement. The concern is about a failing infrastructure,” Vanderslice said.
She noted that the $16.4 million would not push Wilton beyond debt levels it has historically carried, including the years from 2016-2018 when Wilton paid for major construction at Comstock Community Center and the Miller-Driscoll School.
Patti Temple and David Waters, co-chairs of the Police/Town Hall Building Committee — which was formed as a “temporary” group in 2016 to explore options for an expanded or new WPD headquarters — reported on the final plans.
Temple emphasized the highly qualified, seven-member committee acted with discipline and transparency.
“There was very, very careful and thoughtful consideration given to everything that was done,” Temple said.
“We’ve probably been the most transparent building committee in the Town’s history,” Temple added, citing the committee’s rich website content as well as extensive coverage of the project by local media.
Rebecca Hopkins of Tecton Architects gave a detailed overview of the project design and estimated costs.
BOF Chair Michael Kaelin called the discussions “very informative.”
Some BOF members did raise questions to validate whether the plans were as forward-thinking as they could be and whether the cost estimates would be reliable.
After asserting that “truly, we need to get something done,” BOF Vice-chair Stewart Koenigsberg sought assurance that the plans anticipated future needs to the extent possible, and were not hampered by preconceived budget constraints.
Tecton principal Jeff McElravy offered that assurance, with examples ranging from technology and data storage to the use of flexible, multi-use space.
“We talk a lot about what the future of policing holds. That’s something we’ve thought about a great deal,” McElravy said. “I think the facility is appropriately planned for future growth and future change.”
In response to a question from BOF member Matthew Raimondi about the expected useful life of the new building, McElravy said, “I see no reason why this building should not be operational and effective for 50-75 years into the future… This will serve the community for many decades to come.”
McElravy also told the board Tecton has “a very good track record” of completing work on budget and could even come in under budget.
Vanderslice added that cost increases were simply “not an option.”
“This will be the only time we will be going to the public for bonding for this [project],” Vanderslice stated. “It’s not an option to come back at a higher cost.”
Though much of the focus was on the police headquarters, there are a number of other bonding proposals for FY2023 that will appear as voter referendum at the ATM.
- Road restoration: $1,100,000 for the final year of a five-year plan to repave 75 miles of Wilton roads
- Bridge reconstruction program: $760,000 for bridge work prioritized by Wilton as part of a six-year plan based on state DOT inspection findings from 2019
- DPW vacuum truck: $500,000 to replace Wilton’s 27-year-old truck that currently works at reduced capacity and is critical for cleaning catch-basins, particularly during emergencies and storm cleanup
- School district roof replacements: $600,000 for work identified in the DPW’s 2017 study of roof conditions
- Planning and design of Middlebrook and Cider Mill HVAC replacements: $100,000 (part of a larger, $2.1 million project bonded over three years) with a greater focus on maximizing fresh air features (which have become more desirable since the COVID-19 pandemic) as well as utility efficiencies
Statement by the BOF
The BOF is required to make a formal statement with any objection it finds to any bonding referendum sought by the BOS. Finding no objections, the BOF voted unanimously to support each item as proposed by the BOS.
Before concluding the meeting, Kaelin specifically thanked the representatives of Tecton Architects, the Building Committee members and town department heads for their work on the police headquarters proposal.
“it gave me a lot of confidence that the people who are in charge of this project really know what they’re doing,” Kaelin said.