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Select Board mulls use for $960K in overlay fund, gym floor on list

The Select Board is looking at the possible use of $960,000 from the overlay account to upgrade the gym floor at Winchester High School. COURTESY PHOTO/WIKIPEDIA

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Corrections were made to this story on Feb. 9, 2024.

With $960,000 freed up by the Board of Assessors, the Select Board is mulling the best use of the overlay funds and a new gym floor for Winchester High School is high on the list.

“The Board of Assessors did release the $960,000 of overlay funds at their meeting on Jan. 23,” said Town Manager Beth Rudolph during the Select Board’s Feb. 5 meeting.

According to the state’s Department of Revenue, the Board of Assessors is allowed to transfer surplus funds in an overlay account that is no longer needed to cover potential abatements, exemptions or uncollectible taxes to be put to other use.

Rudolph said the funds could be used to cover a Fiscal Year 2025 budget gap or put towards the town’s capital projects or the stabilization fund. But the Select Board had other ideas.

“My preference, being for me, is to get a project closer to the finish line or get two projects halfway down that path,” said Select Board member Michelle Prior.

And she leaned heavily toward addressing the gym floor at the high school. On the capital planning committee’s to-do list, the cost of not only redoing the gym floor, but replacing athletic equipment, new bleachers and turning the orientation of the gym 90 degrees, among other items, is estimated at $2.5 million.

Board member Michael Bettencourt didn’t disagree with Prior. While board members were hit over the weekend with a flurry of emails regarding the condition of the floor, Bettencourt said it’s a problem that has been talked about for years.

Deferred from the high school renovation project, Bettencourt called the gym floor unsafe and its renovation long overdue. But he also pointed out that it was going to take more than overlay funds to fix the problem.

Prior said the town has $11 million in borrowing authorization coming due in the next three years, which would give them room to borrow funding if need be.

Bettencourt said if there is borrowing capacity then the project should be a “no-brainer,” and it should include not just redoing the floor, but reconfiguring the entire gym.

“It’s an opportunity for us to do it right and if we’re going to do it, we should do it right,” he said.

“The cleanest thing to do is to pick off a project that we could do for $960,000,” said Chair Rich Mucci, who has been a long-time proponent of the project. “If I remember correctly, the library windows were around that price … do something clean and easy is my point.”

According to a list of potential projects, the estimated cost for window replacement at the town’s library is exactly $960,000.

Prior said putting the money in the stabilization fund, when the community was clearly interested in the gym, seemed like a missed opportunity.

“If we don’t do a gym floor, we’re going to come to Town Meeting and ask for $2.5 million as opposed to let’s play ball with the money that we have that you chose not to borrow against, the money we might get from the overlay and potentially a more modest use of free cash,” she said. “That seems like a pretty reasonable compromise for everyone’s interest.”

Mucci suggested that if the public’s appetite was for the gym and they were going to have to borrow money anyway perhaps they should just put the question on the March ballot as debt exclusion override and let the public decide.

“So how about no,” Prior said. “For a debt exclusion vote, I don’t think I’m prepared to make that decision tonight.”

Bettencourt noted that for debt exclusion votes in the past there was a long runway leading up to the vote with plenty of time to court the public. With Town Meeting less than three months away, they’d have no time to properly prepare voters, he said.

Mucci asked then, if they should direct staff to start working on draft articles using overlay money, borrowing from the Capital Stabilization Fund or appropriations from free cash.

“Yes,” Prior said. “I think maybe all three. A motion can have three funding sources.”

But the entire board was not ready to center its commitment solely on the gym floor. Mucci offered to hold a Zoom meeting Monday at 4 p.m. to hash out details and discuss other possible options for the $960,000.

Whatever the Select Board decides it will need an article ready for Town Meeting and they have a limited amount of time to get that done. The warrant for Spring Town Meeting closes Friday, March 15. The board will vote on the articles March 11, which gives it only one meeting to get language straightened out.

While Rudolph called the overlay the item with the biggest question mark it is not the only article under the board’s consideration. Other Town Meeting articles the board is grappling with include:

• Community Preservation Act; What the surcharge to local tax bills will look like, the makeup of the board and exactly how the two part article will be settled; with two votes at the Spring Town Meeting or one in the spring and the second at the Fall Town Meeting.

• Water and sewer rates

• The Muraco flood mitigation project

• Authorization to borrow for traffic and pedestrian safety improvements around the Lynch School

• Rescinding the borrowing for the Lynch solar project that was approved last fall.

The Select Board’s next regularly scheduled meeting, where these issues will be discussed/decided, will be held Monday, Feb. 26 at 7:30 p.m.

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