Voters in a 2007 referendum approved a renovation of Town Hall at a maximum cost of $1.6 million, but the estimated total price tag for the project, including preliminary expenses dating to 2004, has grown to $1.8 million.
At a special meeting on November 27, the Woodstock Town Board approved a resolution to finance the updated cost through a $1.25 million bond sale, to take place in May; an eventual outlay of approximately $537,000 from the general fund, of which about $320,000 has already been spent; and the application of a $20,000 state grant for improvements to the town justice court.
Work on the Town Hall project began last May and is scheduled for completion by the end of January. The renovation will expand and modernize the offices of the Police Department, Emergency Dispatch Department, and justice court, which have long been housed in the 75-year-old, 11,000-square-foot building at 76 Tinker Street.
Woodstock supervisor Jeremy Wilber attributed the higher-than-expected cost of the renovation to a variety of factors, including architectural and engineering fees related to revised plans for the project; the need to remove asbestos that was discovered at multiple sites in the building after construction began; the decision to relocate employees of the three departments to temporary quarters on Comeau Drive while construction was under way; and the installation of sprinkler and alarm systems that the final plan for the project did not include.
The bonding resolution adopted at the special meeting stipulates that the total cost of the project will not exceed $1,807,143. In fact, said Wilber in a November 28 interview, the final tally might be lower, as the town may spend less than the $100,000 that the resolution allocates for anticipated “soft costs,” such as moving employees back to Town Hall when the renovation is finished and purchasing furniture and accessories for the remodeled offices.
Any unspent funds will be returned to the “unappropriated, unexpended balance” of the general fund, the supervisor said. Since the beginning of 2012 the general fund has had an unexpended balance of about $240,000, carried over from last year. That balance is expected to yield an end-of-year surplus from which the town plans to obtain the remaining $217,000 appropriation for the general fund’s portion of the Town Hall financing.
The new resolution amends the measure that voters endorsed five years ago, which authorized the town to spend $1.6 million by bonding for $1.45 million and appropriating the remaining $150,000 from the general fund. Instead, the town will bond for the lesser amount of $1.25 million, thus reducing its long-term debt burden, but will tap the general fund for a greater share of the project’s cost.
The vote to approve the resolution was 4 to 1, with councilman Ken Panza opposed. Panza said that his objections to the measure were twofold: first, the appropriations from the general fund significantly exceed the amount cited in the 2007 referendum, which provided the town with the borrowing authority to proceed with the project; and second, the town plans to bond for a predetermined amount, $1.25 million, with “little understanding” of what “soft costs” and other expenses the project may incur before it is completed.
At the meeting and in the interview, Wilber said that the purpose of the resolution was to provide “transparency” to the public through a thorough accounting of the project’s costs from its inception in 2004 through its expected completion in a couple of months. He noted that all Town Board votes in 2012 to approve appropriations for unanticipated renovation costs, such as contractors’ change orders, had been unanimous.
All funds for the renovation are deposited into, and withdrawn from, a dedicated capital reserve account, currently known as the Town Hall Renewal Capital Project (THRCP) fund. In the months ahead this fund will contain the proceeds of the $1.25 million bond sale (which follows the town’s sale, earlier this year, of a Bond Anticipation Note for the same amount); the state grant for the justice court; and a transfer from the general fund of about $217,000 from the anticipated year-end surplus, following previous general-fund transfers totaling approximately $320,000.
Members weigh in
Voting in support of the bond resolution were Wilber, councilwoman Cathy Magarelli, and councilmen Bill McKenna and Jay Wenk, who are donating their building and carpentry skills to the construction of a new bench for the renovated courtroom at Town Hall.
“Unforeseen costs arise with an older building,” Magarelli observed. “I’m thrilled that we did the renovation. I’m not thrilled that it’s costing us (more) money, but I think that was to be expected. It was hard for the Town Board to make budget cuts last year, but we created the surplus that enabled the Town Hall project to proceed. I’m proud that I was on the board last year and able to make this happen.”
“I support our finish of the project in this manner,” said Wenk, adding that, while he harbored misgivings about fees paid to the project’s designers over its long gestation period, he looked forward to the successful completion of the renovation.
Said McKenna: “We have worked really hard to contain and reduce (construction) costs and keep them as low as possible. No costs were incurred to make the project bigger or fancier; the added costs were for necessary tasks, like the asbestos removal. I think that it will be a great building when it’s done.”