NEWINGTON â€“ Town Manager Keith Chapman is asking elected officials to rethink the townâ€™s Capital Improvements Plan and program.
The CIP fund, which covers large projects, equipment purchases, road and facility maintenance, debt service and a number of other items â€“represents a significant portion of the townâ€™s annual operating budget. Right now big-ticket items that receive CIP funding are reassessed on a yearly basis by a sub-committee of elected officials, including Town Councilors and members of the Board of Education. The annual fund is capped at $6.3 million.
â€śYouâ€™re funding it at a set figure without looking at what the needs are,â€ť Chapman told the council at its last meeting, stating that certain necessities are not being financed adequately due to the fact that the whole system is flawed. â€śThere are so many inconsistencies and challenges weâ€™re facing, we really have to rewrite and reinvent the whole CIP program.â€ť
He suggested officials turn over the responsibility of the CIP to the townâ€™s administration. That would eliminate the political aspect of funding allocation, since priorities typically change in tune with new elected leadership.
Administrators, Chapman said, â€śare just going to look at what needs to get done and how weâ€™re going to get it done.â€ť
â€śYou really canâ€™t keep operating the way you are,â€ť Chapman continued. â€śWe have 104 miles of roads and weâ€™re budgeting less money for street maintenance than we were 12 years ago when we had less mileage. We have some major issues with a lot of our buildings that have not been addressed but should have been addressed.â€ť
Earlier this year the town hired planning and consulting firm Owens Realty Services to conduct a full-scale assessment of all town-owned buildings and schools. The results are expected later this fall.
Chapman suggested the CIP at least be put on hold until the town has a clearer idea of what projects need to be prioritized.
â€śItâ€™s going to be a real struggle,â€ť he told councilors. â€śWhen you look at the buildings theyâ€™re not in good shape and we have a lot of catching up to do. Hopefully our economic development efforts pay off to help offset some of those costs. Both the CIP and the operating budget have to be brought under control. We canâ€™t keep having these tax increases.â€ť
Councilors were open to reassessing the program, and agreed any changes would have to be made before this coming January, which is typically when work for the next fiscal year begins.
â€śIt seems kind of ridiculous to be doing something thatâ€™s not working,â€ť Majority Leader Tim Manke pointed out. â€śBut if we donâ€™t make any changes to the process were just going to have to go back to the old system by default.â€ť
CIP committee chairman Dave Nagel called the whole situation a real quagmire.
â€śPerhaps it might be a good idea to let our experts we are paying money for,â€ť he added, â€śMr. Chapman and all the department heads - to address this in some kind of realistic way.â€ť
Councilor Chris Miner was a little more hesitant to turn over CIP responsibility to town employees.
â€śThe residents and taxpayers of this town elect us to represent them,â€ť Miner said. â€śItâ€™s my job and my time as a councilor to represent their best interest. Period.â€ť
The entire body agreed that the townâ€™s CIP should be a long term determination, not an annual one.
â€śWe need to make sure we are planning for the future, and make sure those projects that are big-ticket items donâ€™t become political footballs,â€ť Mayor Beth DelBuono said.
A more detailed CIP proposal is expected in a few weeks, along with the facilities report.
Erica Drzewiecki can be reached at email@example.com.