Police Chief Jim Read echoed an old saying at last week’s Capital Planning/Grants Committee meeting: “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.”
Chief Read said he sees a “disconnect” between the efforts of the committee and the Town Board with respect to capital funding. That disconnect was in evidence last week between the discussion at the committee level and the report Councilman Jim Colligan, who chairs the committee, gave to the Town Board that afternoon.
In a hard-hitting discussion in the morning, the committee agreed it’s past time to begin putting real money into a capital budget to maintain town assets. But just hours later, Mr. Colligan down-played the discussion in reporting to the full Town Board on what had occurred.
On the one hand, he agreed with the conclusion that the town had both a legal and moral obligation not to neglect its assets, but said he didn’t want to speak for the committee in his report. After the Town Board work session, Mr. Colligan told the Reporter he had spoken to each of his Town Board colleagues individually about the urgency of matching money with good intentions.
Mr. Colligan said nothing about the morning discussion would have affected budgeting for the 2019 fiscal year. At issue was whether to begin funding capital projects in 2020 at the rate of 1 or 2 percent per year. (Using this year’s figures, Councilwoman Amber Brach-Williams had told her colleagues a 1 percent increase in the budget would equal about $88,000.)
What Grants Committee members talked about during the morning session was starting with 2 percent funding for capital projects the first year and then continuing to fund at the rate of 1 percent each successive year to build up a fund.
The committee agreed that funds come from one of three places — tax dollars paid to the general fund and allocated to specific projects; bonding; and grants received from federal, state and county sources.
Mr. Colligan advised the Grants Committee not to depend on grants, even though the town has succeeded in getting healthy shares. Instead, he said, it’s necessary to consider bonding or taxing for revenues to meet capital needs.
Public Works Commissioner Jay Card Jr. said now is the time for the town to float a $2 million bond to fund several critical projects. He argued that past experience with delaying repairs to the Medical Center roof resulted in costing more when the project was finally undertaken. With money allocated in 2019 to pay off the bond taken to build the highway barn, floating a new bond at today’s low rates would make sense. What’s more, construction projects escalate over time, Mr. Card said.
Since the purchase of the house adjacent to Town Hall, Mr. Card said his department now has responsibility for another asset.
Mr. Card pointed out that in the current fiscal year, the public works budget was less than the Shelter Island Library’s.
How can that be? he asked, expressing exasperation at trying to meet the needs of the town with limited funds.
Mr. Card warned Grants Committee members that if they don’t attend to several other projects in the year ahead, the town would face losing bulkheads at several sites, including Graces Lane, Dawn Lane and Mables Creek as well as the need to replace a rotting groin at Dawn Lane.
Town Engineer John Cronin said several people have told him they see a need for tax increases to catch up on long-neglected assets and create a maintenance budget to ensure ongoing maintenance.