2018-04-19 / Editorial

Bundling projects best for town

ANOTHER VIEW
BY MARY MEAGHER AND GENE MIHALY

On April 2, the town council voted to approve a referendum question for a $9.8. million bond to renovate the schools and library and build a golf course clubhouse that will provide space on its second floor for town programs and community events. The question will go on the November ballot.

Why put these projects together in November? Among the reasons is that more voters will show up for the election in November than attend a financial town meeting. These projects all concern town assets — important pieces of our infrastructure — that need help now. Lastly, state support and low interest rates available today may not be so favorable next year.

The projects include asbestos removal at Lawn School, renovation of the library’s bathrooms, overhaul of HVAC systems, and roof replacement at both schools and the library.

Buildings have a life cycle just like people and these need some TLC. Melrose School and the library were built in the early 1990s. Lawn School dates to 1955. The need for these projects has been discussed extensively for years.

We’ve discussed the deteriorating clubhouse for even longer. We are fortunate that for the past 30 years Joe Mistowski and his family have made our golf course one of the best in this area.

The same cannot be said about the clubhouse building, however. In 2011, a structural engineer declared the second floor unsafe for public use. The foundation of the southern section has been undermined. Structural members supporting the floor and roof are either undersized or missing altogether, having been removed by the previous owner.

Town councils have reviewed a lot of options including renovating the existing building. In 2012, the buildings and facilities committee determined that would likely cost more than a new building.

Some citizens suggest we renovate just the north wing. It has a better foundation than the south. It would be less costly because it would be a much smaller building, perhaps too small for any operator other than the Mistowski family, which stores supplies on its property next door. It also would require operating the golf course out of a trailer during construction. Most importantly, it would not offer any space for town or civic uses.

This town council supports the option suggested by the building committee in 2012, which is a new building on a site north of the existing one, allowing the existing operation to continue during construction.

The first floor will house the golf clubhouse, including the restaurant and covered garage for cart storage. The second floor will provide space for town programs for seniors and kids, and for meetings and events, both civic and private.

The golf course project represents $2.9 million of the bond, the school $5.9 million, and the library $1 million. The school and library proposals also include the installation of solar panels that will provide enough electricity for these three buildings and a surplus that will service other town facilities.

What will be the cost to us as taxpayers? The maximum $9.8 million cost of the bundled projects would raise the tax rate by 29 cents. If you own a house assessed at $450,000 — Jamestown’s median house value — your share will be about $132 a year.

In actual fact, the cost will be lower, likely a good bit lower.

Subsidies from the Rhode Island Department of Education and the Office of Library Services consistently provide between 30 and 40 percent of the money for capital improvements to Rhode Island schools and libraries. This year, the state is offering more support. So is the Office of Energy Resources through its grant program.

At a minimum, these subsidies will reduce the burden to Jamestown taxpayers by $2.28 million dollars, or seven cents on the tax rate. The proposed solar panels will pay for themselves in seven to eight years, then help to reduce our town electric bill, taking nearly five cents off the tax rate.

In addition, the town will finish paying the 30-year bond that built the Melrose School in 2021. Eliminating that payment will reduce the tax rate by another 10 cents. For the next few years we are allocating $100,000 of the $175,000 annual golf course lease to the rehabilitation of the golf course itself to address Joe Mistowski’s operating priority. Once this work is completed, some of that money can be used to offset costs of the bond.

One final reason to do it now is that the cost of borrowing money is going up. The town has a terrific bond rating, the result of careful planning by our administration, so our rates are lower than comparable communities. But even our rates are rising.

All of these projects need to be done and need to be done now. What might appear as a choice between them is not one in all practicality.

Aging roofs and HVAC systems demand repair.

The clubhouse is literally sagging. It’s unsafe.

Addressing all of these projects together will avoid pitting constituencies of one against those of another. Delay only increases costs.

We can afford this bond.

Jamestown has a history of pulling together to support what is best for the entire community and we believe, sincerely, this is the plan to do just that.

Mary Meagher and Gene Mihaly are town councilors.

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