OLD SAYBROOK – The town has a $600,000 surplus and First Selectman Michael Pace believes the funds should go toward several projects in town.
“I asked the department heads to save money and I did as well,” Pace said, adding it accounted for a 1 percent savings equal to $250,000.
The other side of the budget, the revenue side, experienced higher than expected levels because of collection attributing the efforts of Tax Collector Barry Maynard.
“Barry collected over 99 percent of anticipated taxes, we are moving up the number because we are collecting taxes well, people are paying their taxes and Barry is cleaning up past debts,” Pace said, adding the budget anticipated a collection rate of 99.5 percent but almost 100 percent of taxes were collected.
Pace believes the funds should be used to increase safety, improve the look of the town’s gateways, and restore a cemetery fence.
“The communication system which will provide new radios for the police and fire departments, a new 911 system for dispatchers, and a new tower,” Pace said.
Pace proposes $80,000 in surplus be put toward the project while $550,000 has already been saved for the project estimated to cost $1 million.
An initial investment in an emergency system might lead to both increased safety and increased revenue, Pace said.
“Once it (the tower) is up and running and tested, we are looking to see if we can get cellular providers to hang equipment on the tower,” Pace said, adding it would provide the town revenue in renting the space on the tower and the companies would have to pay taxes on the costly equipment.
Pace estimates there is enough room on the tower for two or three cellular companies to rent space.
Another public safety measure Pace believes should be funded, with $55,000 in surplus, is the relocation of power lines in front of the firehouse trapping the fire trucks when the lines sag, particularly troublesome during snowstorms.
“The $55,000 is for engineering costs, and the cost of relocating the transformer and the big lines creating an area clear of lines from the Katherine Hepburn Theatre to the Youth and Family Services building,” Pace said.
Pace compared the power line relocation to that performed by Connecticut Light and Power which relocated power lines that used to stream across the head of Main Street.
A gateway development project, one that will meet goals of public safety and communication, by installing three electronic message boards, should be funded with $20,000 out of surplus, Pace said.
“The point is to get information to the public about events and if a road is shut down or there is an early school dismissal or weather or another event we can put it on the board,” Pace said.
The project would replacing the letter boards currently in front of Town Hall and at the intersection of Routes 1 and 154 and a third board would be installed at the western side of town at the intersection of Routes 1 and 166.
Pace believes $20,000 of the surplus should be used for repair of the broad iron fence at the Upper Cemetery located near the train station.
“It is one of the oldest cemeteries in town,” Pace said.
Designating $75,000 in surplus for preparation of costs for the town’s next reevaluation is another recommendation Pace is making.
“It costs us about $200,000 mostly for in-house costs,” Pace said about the unfunded state mandate requiring towns to have properties reevaluated every four to five years.
“We do not want it to hit the budget all at once and we have another two years to add to it,” Pace said, adding the town has many designated fund accounts in an effort to save up for anticipated expenses.
Pace believes it is important that people know where their tax dollars are going but that it is not necessary to have a town meeting regarding the use of the surplus money since most of it will be financing public safety projects.
Some have questioned whether the surplus is the result of overtaxing but Pace said the town’s financing is not haphazard and involves a lot of planning including paying for projects in cash, as much as possible, rather than borrow money saving the town thousands of dollars in interest.
For example, Pace said many residents wanted the town to get a 20-year bond when the library project was completed but he advocated a 10-year bond, which is now 30 percent paid off, and has saved $600,000 in taxpayer money.