| Dennis Hackett
WILLIAMSBURG – During a special election on April 19, Williamsburg residents voted 358 in favor to 187 opposed to approve a debt exclusion that would allow the town to go above the Proposition 2 ½ levy limit for all expenses related to the recently approved public safety complex.
By approving the debt exclusion, Town Administrator Charlene Nardi said it allows the town to move forward with the construction of a new public safety complex at the current Helen E. James building location.
“The town can only raise taxes by 2.5 percent each year, so we would never be able to borrow that within Proposition 2 ½ because we have other increases, so we do not have enough room to borrow that much. So, we must exclude it for the length of the borrowing and the amount we need to pay for the project,” she said. “As soon as the project is over, that authorization goes away so our levy limit would drop back down.”
With the debt exclusion approved, Nardi said the next step is to form a building committee.
“The Board of Selectmen plan to establish a building committee, and the charge for that committee will be to facilitate with an architect and the OPM we have on board, the design, putting it out to bid, putting out a contract for the demolition of the Helen E. James and moving the project forward in the next phase,” she said.
Nardi said residents would not see an increase on the tax rate because of the project until at least fiscal year 2023 or 2024.
“When you do a borrowing, usually it hits taxpayers the following year. We are going to use $1 million of savings from our stabilization account. So, we do not expect to go out to bond until the project is closer to being finished. We expect it to hit the tax rate at the earliest FY23 or the latest FY24,” she said.
With their work coming to an end following the project’s approval at the Special Town Meeting on April 3, Nardi said she wanted to thank the Owner’s Project Manager (OPM) Committee for their work on the project.
“I am very pleased it passed, the current committee and the committee before that did a tremendous amount of work. They did a great job of educating the community and bringing the project forward,” she said.
Nardi said the town would not have been able to move forward with the public safety complex without the debt exclusion approval.
At the Williamsburg Board of Selectmen’s April 22 meeting, the board discussed contracts for the architect and Owner’s Project Manager Committee for the public safety complex and establishing a building committee.
With contracts expired for the OPM Committee and the architects for the public safety complex project, Nardi told the board talks had not yet opened for the new contracts.
“I did ask both the OPM representative and the architect stating that we needed to move forward on amending their contracts. They said they would look into it, but they are focusing on the schedule for the project currently,” she said.
Nardi added that both the architect and OPM would continue working until the contracts are amended.
To start the building committee discussion, Board of Selectmen Chair William Sayre said he wanted to try to keep the OPM Committee together as the project continued.
“I wanted to address the committee when they meet next and actually ask them to continue. If the other selectmen agree, I would like to ask them face to face over Zoom to see if they would like to continue,” he said.
Nardi recommended that at least two of the board members serve on the building committee.
“I would recommend that at least two members be on it because in a construction project you do not want to hold up a decision that the building committee might not be comfortable making. With two Select Board members on there, you can help make the process more efficient than waiting for a Board of Selectmen meeting,” she said.
As of the meeting, Nardi said she had heard from four people that were interested in serving on the building committee.
Ultimately the board agreed to continue the building committee discussion at its next regular meeting.
After Sayre suggested that board member Denise Banister work with the Helen E. James school’s alumni association to determine how to honor the school, she said she wanted to work in conjunction with the town before deciding.
“We would meet and discuss what the alumni would like to do, and we have to figure out in conjunction with the town how to best honor Mrs. James. I do not think the committee should decide it by themselves,” she said.
While there are not any plans in place for the alumni yet, Banister said they discussed doing one last walkthrough of the building.
“Some alumni have talked about having a walkthrough, it would be kind of cool to have a picnic kind of thing and get a food truck up there, but that is all I know,” she said.
Sayre said he was in favor of the alumni association making suggestions about how best to honor Helen E. James.
“What I would recommend is that the alumni association makes some suggestions and recommendations to the building committee, who will work with the architect to determine what is to be done. We will have the committee up and running in the next three or four weeks so there will be people to make decisions at that point,” he said.
The board also discussed the current lease at the Helen E. James School, which is set to end on June 1 but then resume in October, and board member Dave Mathers said he wanted to end the lease as soon as possible.
“I want to give them a termination date right now because we want them out of there by July 1. We do not want any interference; the committee has to get in there to look at it, we want them out of that building so we can take charge and do what we have to do to turn it over to the contractor,” he said.
With the project going out to bid as early as September, Nardi said the town needs full possession of the building and the architect was in favor of a July 1 end date.
“They are talking about not going out to bid until September, but we need access to that building and we do not want people in it up until the day we go out to bid. We want to take possession of that building. They suggested July 1 was fine,” she said.
Ultimately, the board agreed to set the lease’s end date to July 1.
The board also reviewed the questions for the interviews for the upcoming own Administrator vacancy ahead of the final interviews on April 27.
During the meeting, Nardi also provided an update on reopening town offices after closing because of the COVID-19 pandemic and said it was still too soon to open.
“I do not think we are ready to come back to town offices. As of Monday, everybody was eligible for the vaccine and it sounds like people are finding vaccines, but I still worry about making that decision so quickly without a real reason that it is needed for the function of town government,” she said.
The board agreed to continue the conversation at its June 1 meeting.
The Williamsburg Board of Selectmen next meets on April 27.