Fairfield considers millions of dollars in capital items

Photo of Katrina Koerting
File photo of the yard at the Public Works garage in Fairfield.

File photo of the yard at the Public Works garage in Fairfield.

Genevieve Reilly /

FAIRFIELD — The selectmen recently approved millions of dollars in capital projects, including new vehicles for public works, paving and a master plan for parks and recreation.

The projects would be bonded, though $1 million was also put in the current operating budget last year to cover half of the paving work. The public works vehicles total $3.92 million, spread out over three years. The $150,000 for the parks and recreation master plan would be a 10-year bond.

Anthony Calabrese, the parks and recreation director, said these plans are usually done every 15 to 20 years. The plan would have an outside vendor examine all of the department’s facilities and 1,200 or so acres of parks, open space and athletic fields to see what needs to be improved and offer suggestions on possible enhancements.

“I can’t find the last time the town of Fairfield did one specifically for parks and recreation,” he said. “It’s important to bring in an unbiased vendor to do this so there’s no pet projects in this.”

These three approvals come as officials consider a larger 10-year capital plan that would total about $275 million for the town, schools and water pollution control facility, which would be spread out so that borrowing wouldn’t exceed $30 million any year.

The $30 million limit was determined based on an analysis of how much debt the town could handle based on the budget, said Jared Schmidt, the town’s chief financial officer.

“It’s a threshold,” he said. “It’s a landmark number to look at. It can be adjusted and in most years we might not even hit it.”

He added $30 million would generally be about 8.45 percent of the operating budget and still allow a little room in case a new need arose, which First Selectwoman Brenda Kupchick said might happen as the facilities audit progresses and they determine the town buildings needs.

“We might move things around if we see there’s a big situation or a health and safety problem,” she said. “But I think this is a fair blueprint that gives everyone some confidence in what’s happening and what our needs are.”

Schmidt said the town will also look for other funding sources, such as grants, for some of the projects on the list.

Selectman Thomas Flynn cautioned that the town will still most likely have to front the money for grant-funded projects and need to be factored into this timeline.

“It’s still a great funding source, but it’s a timing issue,” he said.

Angelus Papageorge, the schools’ operations director, said some of the biggest changes to the district’s plan is boilers, the elevator system and the Dwight Elementary School renovation, which could cost $30 million or become a new school construction project instead. School officials also moved some projects to later in the plan.

“We were trying to be a good neighbor to the town,” he said. “We understand the town has had some issues with buildings and they need to start looking at their buildings as well, so we wanted to be able to participate and help out and smooth out our request as our large projects are wrapping down.”

No vote was taken on either plan nor the town’s 20-year bond package, which totals nearly $4.61 million and includes about $3.98 million for the town and $625,000 for the schools’ mechanical system.

The bond package was tabled so the selectmen can get more information and a possible agreement with Pequot Library about its roof project. Under the package, the selectmen would give $100,000 matching a resident’s private donation.

“I thought it was a unique request and I thought it was worthy of a town investment,” Kupchick said.

Flynn said he and the finance board were concerned because this could set a precedent. The town already contributes to nonprofits’ operating budgets but not the capital expenses.

Other items in the 20-year package include road and bridge design work, a new HVAC for the police department, a pumper for the fire department, a flood control study, work at the fire station, the Pine Creek Park playground, the Lake Mohegan splash pad and Dougiello softball field lights, which the league would help cover.

There is also $500,000 for Independence Hall to reconfigure the conservation, zoning and building departments and make the space more efficient and give them more room. This would be done after the $400,000 townwide facilities audit, also in the 20-year package. This audit complements the town’s roadway and vehicle audit to help give officials a better handle on planning.

Flynn said he approves of the plans and switching to a more proactive approach, especially with buildings.

“If we don’t get out in front of that, which we are not right now, it could be more more expensive to have to play catch-up,” he said.

kkoerting@newstimes.com