Over the last few weeks, the debate over the proposed Killingworth Town Hall addition has heated up between residents and town officials. There have been public meetings, online debates and even signs posted around town that express residents' opinions on the proposed town hall addition. Mailers have also gone out to residents from officials, building committee members and town political committees.
In the meantime, questions are still being asked and with the referendum set to be voted on tonight, First Selectwoman Cathy Iino weighs in to clear some points up.
Q: How has the town not been in compliance with the voting laws? And, how that has/has not affected past elections.
Iino: In an election, though not a local referendum, the registrars of voters are supposed to be at the polling place and they are supposed to have access to the “statewide computerized registry list.” This access is through a special, secure line at the town office building. I am told that we have not always staffed the registrar’s office during polling hours. Registrars have occasionally come back to the town office building to check a record, but technically, that is where we have been noncompliant.
Q: How exactly does the proposed town hall solve the voting compliance issue?
Iino: The registrars’ office will be adjacent to the room that will serve as polling place and will open onto it. Thus the registrars will be at the polls but will have immediate access to the secure link to the statewide list.
Polling place issues alone would not justify the new town hall. They are part of a set of needs that were identified by the Town Office Building Committee and addressed by their proposal. Many commenters have cited the advantages of using spaces for more than one purpose. The large meeting room in the plan does just that and one of the purposes is to provide a convenient, accessible, fully compliant polling place.
Q: Is it possible that a smaller addition, and less costly, would also serve the needs of the town?
Iino: A smaller addition would serve some but not all of the needs of the town. These needs range from repairing the failing modulars that were installed ten years ago as a temporary measure to creating, at long last, a functional, secure, permanent emergency operations center. By addressing many needs together, the Town Office Building Committee found efficient ways to use of both construction and operating funds.
Making the addition half as large would not halve the costs. The Building Committee explored the possibility of doing the addition in stages or cutting out whole parts of the project. The savings were not proportional to the lost space. Many costs are more or less fixed, and the current size takes advantage of these economies of scale.
In other words, the whole proposal is more than the sum of the parts.
Q: There has been a lot of speculation about the $3.5M price tag with many concerned that by the time interest is added, the project will actually cost more over the long-term. What can be said about the details on the financing?
Iino: If this referendum passes, the town will have authorized the expenditure of up to $3.5 million on the project. The selectmen will seek to bond the amount needed for the addition. In explaining the costs to the public, we have used a 3 percent bond rate and the current grand list to calculate the impact on the mill rate to be 0.28.
The actual impact may be less, for several reasons:
- Webster Bank Vice President Christine Caruolo said at the July 17 Town Meeting, currently bonds for towns with rating as good as ours are running at 2.5 to 2.75 percent.
- The Town Office Building Committee and I are continuing to seek ways to save money. In fact, I am submitting a proposal for a STEAP grant this week to offset part of the cost. The more saving we can find, the less we will bond.
- If the town’s Grand List increases over the next twenty years, as most people anticipate, the fraction of a mill needed to repay the bond will go down.
In no event is the town authorized to spend more than the $3.5 million on the project.
By the time the bond is paid off, the town will have spent the cost of the building plus the interest payments. Everyone with a mortgage understands that. A $230,000 house is still a $230,000 house, even if you will have spent twice that much by the time the mortgage is paid off. And of course, the money we will pay out twenty years from now does not have the same value as money today.
Q: Many have asked about seeing the line-item pricing for the project that goes over the specifics to get to the total cost. Is there a way to make that document public?
Iino: The full estimate provided by KVA Associates, a professional estimating firm in Boston, has been posted on the town's website and can be seen here.
There has been some confusion about my comment that this is a conceptual plan. The concept includes
- the approach to construction—a masonry and stick-built lower story and a post-and-beam second story;
- the basic services to be incorporated—Emergency Operations Center, the Resident State Trooper’s Office, a meeting room to seat 75 that can also serve as polling place;
- office and meeting space to replace those in the current temporary addition;
- a design aimed at reducing operating costs for the long term, including highly energy efficient construction methods and systems.
The Building Committee chose not to spend tens of thousands of dollars on an exhaustive plan before the town approved the project. This does not mean the plan is “incomplete.” It just means there is still opportunity to fine tune and improve the plans.
At some point, the town has to delegate the detailed decision-making, and I cannot imagine a more intelligent, knowledgeable, and responsible group to oversee this process and advise the Boards of Selectmen and Finance on this project.
Q: What are your main points for why this is a good project and the town should vote yes on Tuesday?
Iino: Here are three main points:
1. It’s the best option: The Town Office Building Committee spent years studying the options. For instance, they looked at using the former Pharmedica building and found that:
- It is too big and would force the town to take on the role of landlord. (And if you are worried about government expanding . . . )
- The cost of retrofitting it to meet town hall requirements would be prohibitive. For instance, the cost of installing a records vault would come close to $1 million.
- Relocating would separate the first selectman’s office from the public works facilities, and for the foreseeable future, the first selectman is the director of public works.
- The building would be removed from our tax rolls, further increasing the cost to the town.
The other buildings in town pose similar problems, and a completely new building would be prohibitively expensive. The Building Committee concluded that the proposed addition is the best long-term solution to the town’s needs. It takes advantage of the facilities already in place and builds upon them in a way that fits the town’s distinctive rural character while improving both functionality and dignity.
2. It will serve our townspeople better: It will provide much needed meeting space for regular board meetings, special town meetings and meetings of community groups from the Scouts to the seniors. It will provide a secure, functional emergency operations center, in close proximity to our shelters and first responders, which will allow us to cope with the next disaster and its aftermath. It will provide a convenient, accessible, interconnected polling place. A building that will last for generations, serving this combination of purposes, with low long-term operating costs, will be an enormous asset to the town.
3. Now is the time to move forward with this project: Interest rates are at historic lows. The construction industry has not yet rebounded, so bids will be competitive. And the current modular at the back of the building, which were always intended to be temporary, are at the end of their life. If we move forward with this project now, we will not have to waste money repairing what will still be insufficient space with high operating costs.
Q: Anything else you would like to add?
Iino: I would like to say while I wholeheartedly support this proposal, it would be extremely presumptuous of me to take credit for it. The Town Office Building Committee has put hundreds of hours of planning into this project, starting years before I took office. To ignore their overwhelming contribution to this project is simply disrespectful. I’m proud to do what I can to support their efforts.
This town runs on volunteers. Almost every evening, the meeting rooms are full of dedicated citizens who oversee our fiscal health, our recreational facilities, the health of our water supply and dozens of other crucial matters of town governance. Our first responders are volunteers. Killingworth’s civic organizations donate money and services. Without all their contribution of time, energy and expertise, we would not be able to operate on the budget we have now; and our lives would be far poorer.
One commenter on Patch posted: “The best Town Hall is one you never have to visit. You only go there because you absolutely have to, and usually it ends up costing you money.”
No. What makes this town great is the people who take the opposite view, who willingly serve on boards and committees, who come to meetings to understand the issues before the town and give their input, who take it upon themselves to make this a better place for everyone. This addition will serve the public in many ways, but one of the most important is to foster the civic participation that keeps our town strong.
The proposed Town Hall plan is designed for the people of Killingworth. Its purpose is not to create better working conditions for the staff or the first selectman. Its purpose is to protect and strengthen.
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The Killingworth Town Hall Addition Project referendum is scheduled for July 24, 2012 from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m at the .