Appropriation 'compromises' five-year capital forecast

The Representative Town Meeting (RTM) on Tuesday approved a capital appropriation of $3.8 million for six corrective maintenance projects related to Indoor Air Quality (IAQ) at five of the eight classroom buildings in the Westport School District.

With positive recommendations from the Board of Finance and the RTM education, finance and health and human services committees, the affirmative vote of the full RTM placed the IAQ appropriation in line for bonding under the town's Educational Facilities Improvement Fund.

In an Oct. 12 memo to members of the three RTM committees that reviewed the IAQ proposal, Westport Finance Department Director John Kondub said that the financing of the six projects, if bonded at the same time, with an assumed rate of four percent for a 20-year term, would cost approximately $1.5 million in interest.

"There are no plans at this time for this municipality to be entering the capital markets to issue general obligation bonds," Kondub said, adding that, in any event, the IAQ projects would be sent into the capital markets not alone, but as part of a larger package of capital projects.

He said it would likely be no sooner than some time in 2010, and possibly as late as 2011, when the IAQ projects "would become part of a future bond issue."

Kondub also noted that all six of the IAQ projects had been stepped up in time from the capital forecast in the 2009-2010 education budget, which, he said, the town relied on in setting its overall capital forecast for the next five years.

He said that the estimated cost of the IAQ initiative now "exceeds the original forecast amount by approximately $900,000. Our department will be revising [the town's] forecast accordingly."

Reached for comment Wednesday about the funding of the appropriation, RTM Moderator Hadley Rose, who represents District 3, said that the town "would not be running out tomorrow" to finance the near-term costs of the IAQ projects. "It will have to cover those out of currently available resources," said Rose.

Because of that likely new demand on the current town budget and because of the impact of increased capital spending on long-range planning, Rose said that the town's budget process would have been served better had the IAQ request reached the funding bodies in time to be acted on within the budget cycle for the current school year. That budget cycle closed in May.

The same concern about the budget process was expressed at the RTM meeting by RTM members Allen Bomes, who represents District 7, and Linda Bruce, who represents District 2.

"Maybe the budget process is flawed. Whether it was due to the Board of Finance or the Board of Education, the five-year capital plan was compromised," Bomes said in a telephone interview Wednesday.

Reached for comment Wednesday, Bruce said she would like to know when the school administration and the school board realized there was an urgent need for the IAQ initiative.

"What did they learn between the close of the budget process in May and a few weeks later in June?" Bruce asked rhetorically.

She was referring to a unanimous vote by the school board at its meeting on June 1 to ask for a special appropriation of $3 million [later revised upward] from the town for IAQ improvement in the schools.

Bruce said a "statement needed to be made" at the RTM meeting about respecting the budget process. She added, "We can do better."