HARVARD -- Selectmen at their meeting Friday morning scanned a list of capital projects submitted to the Capital Planning and Investment Committee for the next five years. Chairwoman Marie Sobalvarro asked for input and the board agreed to review the list for later discussion, targeting departments under their jurisdiction first.
Sobalvarro noted that it's not the "sole responsibility" of the CPIC to stage the timing schedule for such projects.
Selectman Ron Ricci agreed, adding that it was good to see a "separate document" for departments the board is responsible for as well as other projects aiming for the long-term to-do list, to get a sense of the big picture as it develops.
But Ricci said none of the projects should be viewed as a "done deal" simply because CPIC has a list of proposals on the table. "That should be made clear," he said. "We need to analyze" the proposed projects with an eye to using the town's "scarce funds" wisely.
Selectman Lucy Wallace would have liked to see cost and timing included for school projects on the CPIC list, "so we can see how they intersect."
Sobalvarro agreed it would be helpful to have all the information in one place, but as far as the CPIC list goes, she said, it's pretty much what you see is what you get.
Still, she'd like to see the municipal debt schedule aligned with the project timeline, showing when debt service figures change or debts expire.
Town Administrator Tim Bragan said that he and Finance Director Lorraine Leonard are working on that, "with today's numbers," so that capital projects can be weighed and prioritized based on need and importance.
Selectman Leo Blair suggested upending the practice of "budgeting in reverse" in favor of "cash flow projections" that would align project planning with available cash.
Blair was also critical of the term "debt exclusion," which he views as misleading. "Showing retiring debt is good but a tax is a tax," he said.
Bragan said the term applies to provisions in Massachusetts law Proposition 2/1/2 and that the state added it to the municipal lexicon, not the town.
But Blair said the budget and capital planning process both seem to tackle issues tail end first when it should be the other way around. "Somehow, it gets decided that something is important" he said, but when it's presented to the people, they say otherwise. By then, a lot of planning might have gone into a proposed project, with money spent in the process.
The bottom line is there's only so much cash available and people should know that up front, rather than seeing things through the rear view mirror, Blair said.
Sobalvarro wrapped up the discussion. Selectmen should meet with other boards and committees with projects on the CPIC list to hash out the issues, she said.