Hadley officials fret over project budgets in advance of special Town Meeting

Staff Writer
Thursday, August 24, 2017

HADLEY — With nearly $3.8 million needed to provide the town’s match for a new library, cost projections up by $1.8 million to build a new senior center, and additional money necessary to get a fire substation constructed in North Hadley, voters at a special Town Meeting later this month will consider these spending proposals.

But as Hadley officials move forward with a municipal operating budget that aims to improve public safety, with three additional police officers included in the fiscal year 2018 budget and an additional $217,000 being sought in spending this fall to continue to transition the fire department from an on-call force to a full-time force, there is a recognition about concerns for what townspeople can afford.

Town Administrator David Nixon said officials are strategizing to maintain a pledge made when the projects, including $5.3 million for the senior center and $2.9 million for the substation and the site for the library, were approved at fall Town Meeting in 2016. At that time, residents were told the average homeowner’s tax bill would not go up by more than $95 per year.

“We’re seeing what can be done to fit within those taxes, but it would take longer to get the debt paid,” Nixon said.

The worry is that debt from the three buildings, if extended too far out, will prevent Hadley from adding additional debt for other projects in the future, Nixon said.

Residents are invited to an informational session Wednesday at 7 p.m. at the Hopkins Academy cafetorium to learn more about each of the projects and how officials are plotting a plan to do the borrowing over an extended time. That session comes in advance of the special Town Meeting, which also includes an article to acquire land that could be used for the fire substation, scheduled for Aug. 29 at 7 p.m., also in the cafetorium.

The Select Board and Finance Committee are both endorsing the library project, which in July was awarded a $3.9 million provisional grant from the Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners, and would be built on the site of the former Hooker School on Middle Street. The Hooker building would be demolished, but can’t be torn down until a new senior center, which is housed inside it, is up and running.

But the boards are divided on more spending for the senior center, whose proponents have learned that a 12,000-square-foot building on 2.6 acres in a field behind the Hooker School would cost $7.1 million. Even building a smaller building would still cost $900,000 more than the $5.3 million budgeted, according to Jane Nevinsmith, who chairs its building committee.

The Select Board is supporting the senior center 4-0, while the Finance Committee voted against it in a preliminary vote, 3-2.

The warrant includes acquisition of land in North Hadley where the fire substation could go. A total of $405,000 would buy the 9 acres currently in the chapter 61A program at the corner of River Drive and Stockbridge Street. Nixon said this sale must be complete by Sept. 15.

The Select Board is recommending against an additional $810,800 for the substation, while the Finance Committee is split on this. This money would supplement the $2.9 million if the building is not constructed at the original site, the ballfield adjacent to the aging North Hadley Hall.

If the three building projects are passed at the special Town Meeting by two-thirds majority, they will head to a subsequent ballot vote at a date not yet set.

Scott Merzbach can be reached at smerzbach@gazettenet.com.