Divided Brunswick council OKs $950K in cash for Town Hall renovations
BRUNSWICK — A lengthy debate ended Monday with the Town Council agreeing to spend nearly $1 million from unassigned funds to renovate the future Town Hall.
After only learning about a more solid estimate for renovations earlier this month, councilors were divided on whether to borrow for the project or to use existing funds.
The council rejected the bond proposal 6-3 and approved a second proposal 6-3 to use the town's unassigned fund balance to fund renovations at the 85 Union St. building, currently used by Bowdoin College as the McLellan Building.
In both votes, Councilors Benet Pols, John Perreault and Sarah Brayman supported bonding for the project. Councilor-elect Jane Millet, of District 6, also expressed support for the bond.
The bond would have raised property taxes by about a quarter of 1 percent for next fiscal year and contributed to similar raises for 14 subsequent years. It would have also cost an extra $247,000 because of incurred interest over 15 years.
Pols, Perreault and Brayman said they weren't opposed to using $950,000 in unassigned funds for renovations.
But they said limiting the council to only that option would reduce the amount of unassigned funds that could be used to offset a tax increase next year.
The three councilors said the council should have voted to approve the bond and retained the right to use unassigned funds if next year's budget situation doesn't require the cash.
"To me, it seems like common sense to say we're going to adopt a bond issue just in case we need it," Perreault said. "If we don't need it, we will spend the cash. That is just basic common sense."
Council Chairwoman Suzan Wilson said she's not uncomfortable with borrowing for big projects, but favored using unassigned funds because of a surplus in this year's balance.
"I am comfortable with spending unassigned fund balance on this project for the reasons primarily that that we're moving soon," she said, "... and it would be nice to be able to write the check, say it's done and not increase the tax rate, which you will do when you create a bond."
Town Manager Gary Brown said the town has more than $10 million in its unassigned fund balance – "the highest it's ever been." He said the town would likely be able to withstand the expense in next year's budget.
Renovations of the 85 Union St. building are set to begin by mid-December, which will prompt the town to vacate its current Council Chambers at Brunswick Station.
In the meantime, town boards and committees will meet at Curtis Memorial Library and Hawthorne School until the new Council Chambers on Union Street are available in February 2014.
The town is expected to move into the new Town Hall by early April 2014.
That's when the town is expected to transfer the current Town Hall property, at 28 Federal St. – and sell the former Recreation Center, at 30 Federal St., for $225,000 in a separate agreement – to Brunswick Development Corp.
The council had previously agreed with BDC to swap the 28 Federal St. property for property that has since become the new Police Station at the corner of Stanwood and Pleasant streets.
When the town transfers the Federal Street properties, BDC is expected to close on the sale of both properties for $300,000 to Wiscasset-based Coastal Enterprises.
The nonprofit company has signed a purchase option with BDC and is considering moving its headquarters to downtown Brunswick.