TOWNSEND — With the public spotlight on the operating budget, capital spending projects seem to be on the back burner, but that will not always be the case.
On July 6, a notice announcing the upcoming appointment of three people to the Capital Planning Committee was posted in Memorial Hall.
After July 16, the Board of Selectmen, Finance Committee and Planning Board will appoint one person each to the committee to fill one-year terms.
The Capital Planning Committee was added to the town bylaws in 1999 for the purpose of reviewing upcoming capital projects such as land purchases, buildings and vehicles.
“We have historically relied on debt exclusions” to pay for capital projects, said town administrator Gregory Barnes.
Like an override, debt exclusion must be approved at town meeting, and then the ballot box, before property taxes can be raised. But unlike an override, which raises property taxes indefinitely, a debt exclusion raises taxes only to pay off the borrowing for a specific project. Once that project is paid for, the tax rate returns to what it was before the debt exclusion.
Instead of looking at how a single capital expense will impact the town, the committee focuses on all capital expenses from a town-wide perspective.
The goal is to continue developing the five-year capital plan that was worked on last year.
Barnes said, “it’s a common misnomer that we have a debt service schedule.”
The completion of a debt exclusion “does not directly open up room to finance elsewhere,” said Barnes.
Once the specific purpose is fulfilled, that money is no longer present.
Barnes said it would be beneficial “to set aside funds in the annual budget for capital spending.”
“Our goal is to set aside $200,000 to $300,000 a year for capital stabilization,” said Barnes. He added that the goal wasn’t possible with the current concerns of funding the operating budget.
The three largest capital projects are a new senior center, library, and extensive renovations to the North Middlesex high school, said Barnes.
“All of them are extremely costly,” said Barnes. “It’s safe to say that money doesn’t exist in the current budget for these projects.”
Once the committee positions are filled sometime after July 16, the committee will begin meeting to discuss financing to fund projects, and which projects require more attention from the town.
Anyone interested in being appointed to the Capital Planning Committee can contact the town administrator at (978) 597-1701.