After a lengthy public hearing and special meeting of the Simsbury Board of Finance Tuesday night, the board approved several Capital Improvement Program projects and postponed action on the town's operating budgets.
Approximately 100 residents and town officials gathered at the Simsbury High School auditorium for the hearing. The board voted unanimously to approve 6 Capital Improvement Program projects. Two of the projects are headed for referendum next month.
The Ethel Walker Phase 2A project to purchase an additional 46 acres of open space from the Ethel Walker School in the amount of $2.05 million was approved for bond funding. The Simsbury School District Network Infrastructure project to replace an aging network system with a "Thin Client" operating system in the amount of $1.8 million was also approved for bond funding.
Residents will vote on the referendum on May 15 from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. at Henry James Memorial Junior High School.
Resident Joan Coe argued that the town should not use taxpayer money to purchase land from the Ethel Walker School in the midst of a struggling economy.
"I would urge the taxpayers of Simsbury to reject this referndum item which will increase our debt substantially," Coe said.
Advocates for the land purchase said it would protect the recharge area for the Stratton Brook Aquifer which provides 80 percent of the town's water supply.
When complete, the purchase will preserve 423 acres of open space that includes a trail system and a diverse wildlife habitat. The town purchased 332 acres in June 2007 and plans to purchase the remaining 45 acres in 2014.
The Wolcott Pump Station Rehabilitation project in the amount of $1,378,500 was approved for funding from the town's sewer use fund. The Dispatch Console Replacement project in the amount of $185,000 was approved for funding from the town's general fund.
The board of selectmen recently approved a revised version of the CIP project budget that included full funding for improvements to multi-use paths on Owens Brook Boulevard and West Street and for repairs to the Farmington Valley Greenway. The budget also includes additional funding for portions of the Emergency Generator Improvements and study.
Jefferson Wilkes, 18, a senior at Simsbury High School said the improvements to the West Street and Bushy Hill Road intersection was a matter of student safety.
"The only crosswalk is on the opposite side of the street [from the school]," Wilkes told the board. "There is, at the moment, no safe way to cross that road."
Others advocated for needed repairs to the sidewalk on Owens Brook Boulevard which has become increasingly cracked and uneven.
"It's kind of an accident waiting to happen," Joanne Niland told the board. "Right now it's not a matter of aesthetics."
The board voted to restore the requested amount of $358,000 for the Owens Brook/West St./Greenway project using bond funding. The board also approved $74,000 for the Emergency Generator Improvements project to be used for a study and related improvements. The town plans to use federal storm aid reimbursements to purchase a new generator for the Tariffville emergency shelter.
Capital improvement projects will be acted on during a Special Town Meeting to be held on Tuesday May 1 following the Annual Town Meeting at 7 p.m. in the Simsbury High School auditorium.
The board also considered the town's $88.68 million operating budget consisting of the Board of Selectmen proposed budget of $18.03 million, the $6.19 million debt retirement budget, the $63.91 million Board of Education budget, and a $528,738 non-public school budget.
Board Chair Paul Henault said the proposed budgets would result in a 1.98 percent increase in the town's mill rate. The current mill rate is 30.86 mills and the increased mill rate would rise to 31.47 mills. Board members agreed to look at ways of avoiding a steep increase before advancing the budget to the annual town meeting.
The board remains undecided about adding the full-day kindergarten program and the Open Choice program grant funding as line items in the operating budget. Board member Kevin North suggested the omission could be an issue of transparency. The board voted to postpone action on the town's operating budget until the April 12 meeting of the board of finance.