Town peers five decades into the future in first look at long range plan

Feb 26, 2024

From a new middle school to a new Padanaram Bridge, the town has a number of big-ticket projects looming on the horizon. 

Just six months after the first Long Range Capital Planning Committee meeting, the town shared its first look at a long range capital plan. 

Town Administrator Shawn MacInnes presented the plan at the Feb. 26 Select Board meeting, but not before Chair David Tatelbaum chimed in with an essential caveat: “By no means does this mean the bulldozers are starting to roll tomorrow morning and we’re going to start all these projects,” he said. “It does not mean that.”

Rather, the new plan can serve as a guide for the future borrowing options of the town. 

Large capital projects, like the high school on Bakerville Road or the new police station, require that the town take on debt to finance the projects. In turn, the debt is passed on to taxpayers through property tax rates. 

Proposed projects include a recreation center, a new high school roof, a new Padanaram Bridge, a new middle school, all new elementary schools, a new Memorial Stadium, and improvements to Dias Landing and the Council on Aging, all of which would cost nearly $300 million. 

Separately, several Department of Public Works building projects are looming, including water and wastewater treatment upgrades that would cost around $86 million in total. Debt that Public Works takes on would be passed on through utility rates. 

The town may only build some of these projects, MacInnes said, but the long range plan shows that it’s possible to build them all, and provides a framework for how the town would do so. 

If the town were to fund every one of these projects, the average tax bill for residents would rise by nearly $1000 over the next 20 years, then decrease again as the debt expires. 

“This is a lot of projects, I don’t imagine that the town will do all of these projects over the next 50 years, but it’s important to note that it can be done,” MacInnes said. 

The actual tax increase will depend on each household’s home assessments; MacInnes said the town plans to share a calculator at Town Meeting for residents to see their actual potential tax increase. 

The proposed numbers were cause for concern to Select Board member Stanley Mickelson, especially when he considers seniors on fixed incomes living in town. 

“People will not live in this town. You won’t attract people to come here, and at the end of the day, you won’t have the cash to pay for half of these projects,” Mickelson said. “We must take care of the seniors.”

Member Heidi Silva Brooks said she understands where Mickelson is coming from, but also knows that some of the capital projects proposed are essential.

“We have to really think about the town we want to live in,” Silva Brooks said. “Does it have decrepit, unhealthy buildings or does it have safe, healthy, state of the art buildings?”

“This gives a blueprint for our capital needs in the future,” said Select Board member Shawn McDonald. “We would be remiss for not doing this, that’s for sure.”

Town staff is also devoted to finding and applying for grants to help with these projects, Tatelbaum said, which could alleviate some of the town’s financial lift. 

The town will present the plan again at June Town Meeting, where they also plan to create a “Long Term Capital Stabilization Fund,” which would be used to offset capital project costs, help with some debt payments which could in turn reduce residents’ taxes, and provide a match for grant-funded projects.

But before then, the Select Board and Long Range Capital Planning Committee want to gather public feedback and input on the proposed plan, which could help shape it further. 

“We’re going to have open sessions and we’re going to have a presentation at Town Meeting in June,” Tatelbaum said. “We want to get comments, we want to get feedback.”