standing Westerly Town Hall

WESTERLY — The Planning Board on Wednesday reviewed $26 million in capital improvement program requests submitted by municipal departments, the Westerly Police Department and the School Department for the 2019-20 budget year.

After listening to an overview of the requests by Town Manager J. Mark Rooney and School Superintendent Mark Garceau, the board voted unanimously to find that the capital improvement plan submitted by Rooney, including the department requests, was consistent with the municipal Comprehensive Plan and with the board’s policy. The board, in the same motion, also voted to “recognize the important connection between the capital plan and the Comprehensive Plan.”

Rooney is taking a different approach to capital improvement planning by proposing the creation of a new capital equipment replacement fund that would become part of the town’s annual operating budget. In his proposal, $7.2 million worth of projects would be covered by the fund.

Money in the fund would be used to cover the anticipated repair or replacement of assets already in use by the town, such as vehicles or heavy equipment used by the Public Works Department. School Department items would not immediately be put into the capital equipment replacement fund, pending study by the municipal staff to gain a better understanding of the school district’s needs and how they would fit into the use of a fund, according to a written summary of the capital improvement plan submitted by  Rooney.

The new approach, Rooney said, would “smooth out” spending and help the town avoid sharp spikes or difficult decisions on how to make repairs.

Planning Board members expressed support for Rooney’s new approach to capital improvement planning.

“I want to compliment you … we were not taking a long-term approach before,” said Catherine DeNoia, a member of the board.

James A. Hall IV, Planning Board chairman, called Rooney’s approach “visionary.” Nancy LeTendre, the board’s lawyer, said it met the board’s stated wish to incorporate spending for maintenance of town facilities and other assets into the operating budget.

One of the highlights of the plan would be $651,250 to cover the town’s matching requirement for federal grants to dredge Winnapaug Pond. Also included is a request from the Department of Development Services for $325,000 to develop master plans for the potential redevelopment of the former Bradford Dyeing Association property, and for the growth and development of the entire Bradford village; and for revitalization of the North End and the downtown area.

The plan also calls for $130,000 for legal research and surveys of public access areas to the eight mooring fields in the town and 17 shoreline rights of way. These are required as part of the town’s harbor management planning process.

The police department requested $300,000 for a radio replacement plan and the Recreation Department requested $1.26 million for improvements at the Gingerella Sports Complex, $942,000 for improvements at the Bradford Preserve lacrosse fields,  $719,100 for Cimalore Field, $641,600 for Craig Field, and $515,500 for Rotary Park.

The School Department submitted requests totaling $1.15 million, which could drop to $1.08 million depending on state reimbursement rates.Projects include $218,960 for a district-wide telephone system upgrade,which Garceau said is needed as a security measure, and $211,794 for improving technology wiring and other infrastructure, and $102,000 to repair the track at Westerly High School.

The proposed $25.9 million overall plan cost includes $3 million that officials plan to use to cover part of the cost of acquiring land at the end of White Rock Road where a solar power project is planned. The town expects to be quickly reimbursed the $3 million by Ameresco, the company chosen by the Town Council to develop and run the solar project.

This story was edited at 1:30 p.m. on November 22 to reflect the correct totals for proposed capital projects and projects that would be covered by the capital equipment replacement fund.