By K.B. Sherman, Contributing Writer
Grafton – At its weekly meeting April 12, the Grafton Board of Selectmen were to vote on several articles to be on the warrant at Town Meeting May 17. The session evolved into a spirited discussion about the best way to fund large expenditures.
The warrant calls for a vote on debt exclusion for the cost of the soon-to-be-built Department of Public Works (DPW) facility and several newer vehicles for the Fire Department. The DPW project is estimated to cost $13.9 million and the Fire Department wishes to acquire a new pump truck estimated at $400,000 and emergency all-terrain vehicle (ATV).
The April 12 discussion and vote centered around how best to pay for these and perhaps other capital expense items. The plan is to fund both with a debt exclusion which would add, on average, $168/year to the real estate tax of Grafton homeowners.
The warrant for the May 17 Town Meeting includes a debt exclusion for the DPW facility and new fire vehicles. Funding both will add approximately $168 to the average home real estate tax beginning in 2020. Both must pass Town Meeting by two-thirds and then a majority vote at the following ballot.
Selectman Bruce Spinney voiced concern about going after the DPW funding without knowing the cost to maintain the facility and addressing the Conservation Committee’s latest pollution concerns. He noted there is no money in the current budget for this. He was also concerned of the impact on this spending in light of roadway improvements and the unknown cost of maintaining new and extra vehicles inside the new facility.
Assistant Town Administrator Doug Willardson replied that the plan for the DPW facility assumed a 33-year payback regarding a return on investment basis with an additional 17 years of savings for the rest of the 50-year estimated building life.
Spinney noted that he didn’t anticipate this article passing at Town Meeting and questioned what other funding mechanisms existed.
Selectman Brook Padgett echoed this.
“So where will the money come from if this is voted down?” he asked. “The DPW and new fire station may be too much for voters.”
Selectman Dennis Flynn said he hoped the Building Committee would be more involved.
“The town doesn’t have a long-range plan and I hear many asking when the spending will end and taxes stop being raised,” he said. “This board should have addressed this better.”
He noted that the Finance Committee will almost certainly have its own questions and suggested that the selectmen bypass this article at Town Meeting.
Padgett replied that this is just a vote to put the question on the ballot for voting later. He said it does belong on the Town Meeting warrant.
The discussion then turned to that of the wisdom of using debt exclusion for such financial outlays. Flynn suggested that such issues as new fire equipment be paid for from free cash or the stabilization fund. However, he was alone in this assertion as the other selectmen and Town Administrator Timothy McInerney rejected the suggestion.
The motion to sign the warrant with these articles was approved 4-0.