Brunswick budget gap grows, thanks to Town Hall costs

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BRUNSWICK — Rising and newly estimated costs for renovation of the new Town Hall could contribute to a $285,000 deficit in the town budget.

Interim Town Manager John Eldridge revealed to the Town Council on Monday that the project could be more than $150,000 over its $1.08 million budget.

Eldridge, who has been the town’s finance director since 1988, also revealed that the town’s operating budget for the current year could take an estimated $135,000 hit because of the cost of taking over the 85 Union St. building halfway through the fiscal year.

Eldridge’s draft project budget for the Town Hall renovation project and its impact on the town’s operating budget includes financial details that were not disclosed before the Feb. 10 early dismissal of former Town Manager Gary Brown, who was previously in charge of the project.

“To prepare what the council asked for a project budget, we prepared for what was beyond construction and design costs,” Eldridge said on Wednesday, noting that some numbers could change. “We felt these were project-related because, absent the project, we wouldn’t have these expenditures.”

The last update from Brown on Jan. 29 said the project had a deficit of just under $23,000. Brown this week did not respond to a request for comment.

The new financial details include costs – some of them estimated – for moving into the new Town Hall, setting up the building’s technology infrastructure and project management.

In addition, Eldridge said he budgeted for an additional $56,000 in contingency funds, in addition to the $43,000 that has been expended.

As for the estimated $135,000 deficit in the town’s operating budget, Eldridge said because the council had not anticipated taking over the building and moving in earlier than the summer, the financial impact was not included in this year’s municipal budget.

The operating deficit takes into account moving out of the old Town Hall at 28 Federal St. and a satellite human services office; a reduction in rent the town had to pay to Bowdoin College for the Council Chambers at Brunswick Station; and moving into 85 Union St., which is the largest expense driving the deficit.

On the revenue side, the deficit includes the loss of payments in lieu of property taxes from Bowdoin for leaving the first two floors of 85 Union St., and the diversion of half of Bowdoin’s annual gift to the renovation project budget.

To fill the budget deficit, Eldridge said the council may have to appropriate more money from its fund balance. He added that staff will try to identify any reserves the council can use.

Councilor Jane Millett, who was critical of the new Town Hall plans before joining the council, said she appreciated having a more complete picture of the financial impact of the renovation project.

“It’s information I’ve been asking for many, many months,” Millett said. “Others have asked for it, too, and this is the first time we have gotten it in such a comprehensive and succinct format.”

Councilor David Watson, who has been on the Town Hall’s renovation committee, said his committee was only charged with assessing the renovation figures, and not the extra costs provided in Eldridge’s report.

“Even if we’re paying a million and half to get this facility,” he said, “the town is so far ahead when you look at this location, the cost of being able to serve town adequately. It’s going to be a boon for the town.”

Dylan Martin can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 100 or Follow him on Twitter: @DylanLJMartin.