February 15, 2017An amendment reducing the budget for improvements to town hall passed by just a couple votes during last week's deliberative session on the 2017 town warrant, and voters will decide on a proposed price tag of $385,000 article in March.
On Wednesday night voters gathered at Gilford High School for the town deliberative session.
Article 11 originally called for $450,000 for phase two of the town hall project, with money coming from the fund balance and not taxes. This will install new heating and cooling fixtures, upgrade the water system, upgrade hallway flooring and sidewalks, and install ADA compliant doors.
Town officials said the HVAC system in the building is aging and failing and could barely last through this summer.
The Budget Committee voted not to recommend the project due to concerns about the cost.
Budget Committee Chair Norm Silber said they had concerns about undertaking a project of such a high cost before having working drawings or firm bids and proposals.
Silber said the money from the fund balance is taxpayer money that has not been expended.
Committee member Kevin Leandro said there is no doubt this work needs to be done. The building is around 30-years-old and Leandro said a lot of corners were cut in the construction. Leandro, however, said they cannot fully justify the cost. The HVAC system had an estimate of $200,000 and Leandro said it was hard to justify the project for $450,000.
Leandro moved to amend the article changing the figure to $385,000, which he said is more palatable.
"If this fails you cannot spend one dollar to improve the town hall without going to a special town meeting," Leandro said to the selectmen. "If that air conditioner dies in the middle of summer you can't replace it because the money's been shot down by the voters."
Board of selectmen chair Richard Grenier said they made a conscious decision a year ago that if they did not use fund balance for this project they would use capital improvements money. He said they have not used the fund balance to offset the tax rate, plus they wanted to save CIP money for a later time.
Grenier said the initial estimates for the project came in at around $400,000 for the whole project, $250,000 for the HVAC system. At the last minute they go a quote for $165,000, though that was missing details such as baseboard heating in the bathrooms. Leandro said the higher numbers were reflected too much built into the contingency.
The project would also include $23,000 for the groundwork for a police impound yard, which would be constructed through a possible grant through Homeland Security. Grenier said the police have been keeping a few vehicles for criminal investigations and the impound yard would keep them secure.
Resident David Horvath asked if they could still get the Homeland Security grant without this groundwork, Grenier said yes.
Paul Blanford, a contractor, said keeping the number low would require value engineering, which will not give the product they want.
"I think the $450,000 is as good as you're going to get," Blanford said.
Selectman Chan Eddy said he agreed with Leandro's statement that there was too much included in the contingency. He said he could support the $385,000, saying they would have to make some changes.
Chris McDonough, the school board representative on the Budget Committee, noted the police impound lot was not included in the warrant article. Grenier said they initially cut out the impound yard and vault improvements, though when they got lower estimates they put those back in.
"There seems to be this urge to spend it on other items they may feel are needed on the project, I want to take away that incentive," McDonough said. "I am confident the job can be done for the $385,000"
Skip Murphy said adding these projects that are not included on he warrant is a bait and switch. Murphy and Leandro both said they would rather see these items as separate warrant articles. Leandro also questioned the legality of having these items included.
The amendment narrowly passed in a hand count vote of 29 in favor to 27 against.
Members of the Budget Committee met after the deliberative session and voted unanimously in favor of recommending the article with the new numbers.