If the town borrows $3.1 million for a proposed athletic complex at , it would cost the average taxpayer about $35 a year in additional taxes, per a plan put forth by First Selectman George Temple.
That is what town officials revealed Monday night during a meeting at Town Hall held to discuss details of the field proposal and how selectman plan to pay for it.
Selectmen voted unanimously, 3-0, to send an official sports complex proposal to the Board of Finance for its stamp of approval. Selectmen also voted unanimously to support a 20-year bond, which would add about .16 mills to the tax rate. Jim Hliva, the town’s finance director, said that equates to an increase of about $35 a year in taxes for the average taxpayer as the town could get a low interest rate, between 2 percent and 2.5 percent a year, on the bond.
Selectman Jeff Haney, the driving force behind the most recent field proposal, said he firmly believes a majority of residents support the plan.
“The time is right,” he said. “Interest rates are low, this needs to get done. If not now, when?”
Finance board members heard details of the proposal Tuesday but did not take any action. The meeting was informational, and the board is expected to meet later this month to determine whether it supports the project. If the finance board does approve the plan, the proposal will be sent to a public hearing and then a town meeting, at which time residents can vote by a show of hands. Neither the public hearing date, nor the town meeting date, have been set.
Finance board members did not say one way or another whether they were in favor of the project.
The proposal includes a synthetic turf field where Oxford High School students could play football, soccer or possibly lacrosse and field hockey one day if the school gets the two latter sports. The field would be surrounded by an eight-lane track. The proposal includes bleachers, lights and a press box. It does not include a field house or a concession stand.
The field would be constructed across the street from the pool and diagonal from the softball and baseball fields. All told, the project will take about four months, said Jim Galligan, town engineer.
The field would be under warranty for 10 years, though officials say they expect it will last about 14 or 15 years.
Discussion of Financing
Board of Finance Chairwoman Lila Ferrillo said she would rather see the project bonded over a 10-year period. Still, selectmen disagree and voted to recommend a 20-year borrowing cycle.
Selectman Dave McKane said he wants the longer bonding cycle because the town has several projects coming down the pike in the next 10 years that he doesn’t want to have to put off because the town is paying more annually for the field than it could be.
He pointed to a new library and renovations or reconstruction of Oxford Center School as big-ticket municipal projects that will need to be completed over the next decade or so.
Finance board member Jack Kiley told selectmen there is a feeling amongst townspeople that the fields project was deliberately brought in at $3.1 million to avoid a referendum. Per town charter, if the number was more than 10 percent of the tax levy – which is $32. 5 million, currently – the project would have had to be approved by a referendum rather than a town meeting.
Temple became irritated by the comment, saying curtly, “If the Board of Finance wants us to raise the price of this project, we can.”
He said a committee that selectmen put together to review the project have worked hard to save the town money.
Referring to a previous proposal for a field that selectmen scrapped after Temple and Haney were elected, Temple said: “This is what the other company wanted to do, but our is much cheaper.”
Would Temple Support a Referendum?
That is what finance board member Tom Kelly asked Tuesday night.
Temple, who has previously said he’s confident it would be approved at a referendum, stopped short of sending it to a vote of the townspeople. “That’s not something I’m prepared to do right now,” Temple said in response to Kelly’s question.
Haney said he’s offended when people say selectmen are not giving people a vote. “People can vote; come to the town meeting,” he said.
“If it falls within our charter that we can pass this at a town meeting, we’re going to pass it,” he said. “If it goes to referendum, so be it. We’re under budget, we’re following the rules, so what’s the problem?
Haney: Current Facilities are Disgraceful
Haney, who has a son on the football and track teams, said he would push for this project even if his son was not playing sports.
“I just look at these facilities that we have for our kids, and they are not adequate,” he said. “Our track team doesn’t have a track. Our cross country team doesn’t have a course. Our football team (and soccer teams) plays in mud and the fields get flooded."
He said that regardless of whether the project is voted upon at a town meeting, or if people petition to send it to a referendum, he believes it will pass. He said people look at the current facilities and realize the need.
“I’ve had too much positive feedback in the past four months to be pessimistic about this,” he said.