TOWNSEND — Voters will likely be looking at a new bylaw at this fall’s Town Meeting. The proposed law will define the role and purpose of the Capital Planning Committee and set policies for capital purchasing.
The committee met jointly with representatives of the Board of Selectmen and Finance Committee on Sept. 2 to work on the legislation.
The proposed bylaw is intended to establish a procedure all town departments will buy into, and to empower the committee to set long-term priorities for capital expenditures according to Carolyn Smart, clerk of the Capital Planning Committee.
“Capital planning is not the Townsend way,” she said. Because department requests for capital expenditures are approved at the last minute rather than as part of a long- term plan, she said major purchases end up costing the town more money than they should.
“We’re way behind the 8-ball,” she said.
Smart would like to see a percentage of each budget earmarked for a future capital spending. “Annually at Town Meeting there will be money put into a capitalization fund. That’s what your Capital Planning Committee works within,” she said.
Paul Concemi, the chairman of the Finance Committee, said any one-time funds should be earmarked for stabilization and capital stabilization funds, and not spent on the operating budget.
Each year the committee would form a prioritized list of capital needs across the municipality, covering the next three to five years, Smart said. Capital purchases must be in the plan to be included in the yearly budget. If a capital purchase is needed in an emergency basis, the department will have to approach the Finance Committee or the selectmen.
Selectman Sue Lisio questioned the viability of promising money to a stabilization account when the town is having a difficult time meeting operating expenses. “Right now there’s no money to commit,” she said.
If money is appropriated to the capital stabilization fund and is later needed elsewhere, it can still be accessed with a more than two-thirds vote at a Town Meeting, said Andrea Wood, the Finance Committee representative.
“I think the biggest point is not how much, but as a group are we willing to set a group of guidelines and get people who need money to adhere to it?” asked Jed Coughlan, chairman of the Capital Panning Committee.
Town Administrator Andy Sheehan said he will meet with the town accountant and the town treasurer to suggest a yearly amount for the capitalization stabilization account. Their recommendation will be based on percentages of the budget used for capital purchases over the last few years.
The proposed bylaw calls for a seven-member committee with four at-large members and representatives from the Finance Committee, the Planning Committee and the Board of Selectmen. The committee will be responsible for gathering and prioritizing departmental requests and making a yearly report to the Board of Selectmen.
All capital appropriations must either be in the committee’s report, or have the approval from the Board of Selectmen as being an emergency in order to be voted on at a Town Meeting.
“My goal as a committee member is to make every department head feel like they’ve been heard,” Capital Planning Committee Vice Chairman Lorna Fredd said. “We’re engaging them in the process.”