Friday, October 27, 2006
Finance Committee approves plan for rec fields
With some reservations, the Finance Committee (FinCom) voted on Monday, October 23 to support the financing of playing fields for Banta-Davis (Articles 1 and 2) at the Special Town Meeting October 30. In discussion, some members expressed concern that the issue was being rushed to voters with inadequate consideration of the town financial plan or of the possibility of alternative funding. In the end, however, most agreed the demonstrated immediate need for fields and the potential for increased costs with delay outweighed the benefits of more analysis.
Where's the long-term plan?
Chair Thornton Ash pointed to the Selectmen's newly-formed Long-Term Planning Group (LTPG) and wondered why the first project to come before the Selectmen was being allowed to circumvent the process. The LTPG is developing a model for evaluating town investments in recreation, schools and affordable housing in terms of future impact on tax rates. FinCom member Dave Verill, however, did not believe the model would "somehow give brilliant vision" and Dave Model noted the recreation project, at about $2 million, is not large enough to impact the analysis much. But Sue Wolfe, FinCom and LTPG member, believed that "waiting the four months until the group comes out with recommendations" would be financially prudent and that otherwise "we're saying this is the highest priority."
Other issues raised
A sticking point for FinCom member Dave Trask was the inability to use Community Preservation Act (CPA) funds on the recreation project because the Carlisle School will not relinquish the land. He suggested bringing a change of use proposal to Town Meeting, but the RecCom's Allen Deary responded, "I don't think that's practical at this point." Former School Committee member Cindy Nock said the school's stance has long been to "never relinquish" rights to the land, and Deary confirmed that is still the philosophy, "It's not like we didn't ask the question." As long as the land is designated for schools, the project is ineligible for CPA funds. Nock noted, however, there are plenty of future projects against which those funds can be applied.
Trask had another concern with the school's control of the land, "In business I would never invest $2 million in a piece of land someone could take back in ten years." But Ash questioned if this was a realistic risk given the declining school population and plans to stay at the current site. FinCom member Barbara Bjornson suggested the FinCom has to "make a decision with the best information you have now." She believes recreation fields are "a service the town supplies to serve demand" and noted, "I think we're underserving" in this area. "I don't think we're being extravagant. The town agreed to do this in 1998, and we've been dragging our feet. We've just got to do it," she added.
Costs quadruple as time passes
The RecCom's Mark Spears also countered the call for further delay by noting costs rise as time flies. The current plan was originally proposed to be Phase II of a plan passed in 1998, and was to have been started in 1999. Had it been built then, the cost estimate was $576,000. "The cost quadrupled in eight years," he says, noting the recreation plan was put on hold because of the school and "years later they still don't have a plan. Demand is there. We're going to have to do it." Added Deary, "I applaud the long term (planning) effort; it's the right thing to do. But we need to get this done now."
Although none of the FinCom members appeared to oppose the project outright, the vote on Article 1 was four to three. "My issue is with the process," said Ash, who was one of the minority voters. However, he supported Article 2, noting that if the town is going to do fields, "turf makes an awful lot of sense to me." The vote on Article 2 was therefore five to two. (See also RecCom answers FinCom questions on Banta-Davis.)
© 2006 The