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After the usual reports from various town committees, on Monday night Fall Town Meeting settled into a discussion of capital projects which require funding.  Several passed quickly, such as funding for a new library roof, and then the moderator moved Article 6 forward to allow time for Pearl Coughlin, a Muraco School fourth grader, to speak about funding playground equipment replacement at Leonard and McDonald Fields. The article passed.

 On returning to the capital funding, Town Meeting voted in favor of several including an engineering study for the Packer-Ellis Tennis Courts which are in a dangerous state of disrepair.

However, there was some discussion involving engineering studies in general, with the Finance Committee (FinCom) chair explaining that the committee voted its approval of 70% of the capital projects, and 11 to 1 against the rest.  Capital Planning member Roger McPeek emphasized that the articles are for priority projects, many for health and safety reasons. He also said that delaying engineering studies just increases the ultimate cost.

FinCom Chair John Miller said a majority of the committee members are concerned about funding engineering studies for projects that don’t have known funding sources. Miller said FinCom wants to delay or defer these motions until after the new year and they first want to see the town manager’s Five-Year Capital Improvement Program.  He said they want to see committed sources of funds and to defer comprehensive action until Spring Town Meeting.

Precinct 5 member Carol Savage asked for a response from the Select Board regarding FinCom’s position. Select Board Chair Rich Mucci said that these engineering studies are needed to create the Capital Improvement Plan and the studies need to get done now. Precinct 7 member Jen Haefeli asked how long an engineering study is good for and if a delay would put the funding in the next budget period. Town Manager Beth Rudolph responded by saying that the shelf life of a study depends on the type of project, that an engineering for a roof has a long shelf life, for example. She said that most of the studies requested had a long shelf life. She also said that delaying now would delay these studies until at least Spring Town Meeting, which just delays capital planning as a whole.

Although Winchester doesn’t have enough funding sources for all its capital projects, the town had a healthy fiscal year 2023 year end close, according to Town Manager Beth Rudolph who said that property and excise tax revenues met budgeted amounts.  She added that turnbacks (which are unspent funds) totaled approximately $3.3 million (including a health insurance budget turnback of approximately $1.2 million). She also said that the town’s “free cash” continues the upward trend of the last few years. Rudolph said the town has $20,065,593 in “free cash” prior to any appropriations by Fall Town Meeting. She pointed out that the town’s Operating Reserve Policy is to maintain reserves between 6% and 10% of estimated General Fund Revenue and that the town was at 18.64% at the end of fiscal year 2023. 

Town Meeting resumes again on Thursday evening.

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