By SHERIDAN ROY
The Southington Town Council set a public hearing for June 24, at 7 p.m., in the meeting room of the John Weichsel Municipal Center. The purpose of the proceeding is to hear residents’ thoughts on purchasing the municipal center from Borghesi Building and Engineering Co., Inc. in Torrington.
The building, formerly known as North Center School, was sold to Borghesi for $1 in 2011 after three town referendums failed to expand the town hall. In the agreement, the town agreed to lease the building at approximately $400,000 per year for eight years. The town budget and the board of education budget split the cost 50/50.
The eight-year lease ends this year, and the town has the option to purchase the building for $2.9 million using money from the undesignated fund balance. There would be no interest rates with this option.
Other options presented by the council include bonding, which is estimated to cost $3.3 million, or a combination of bonding and use of undesignated fund balance money. The town could also choose to do nothing, and continue to lease the building for another 10 years.
Purchases over $1 million require voters’ approval. Pending a recommendation from the board of finance to the council, and a council vote to approve, the item would appear as a referendum question on the November 2019 ballots for residents to answer.
“This is a perfect example of a way to use our undesignated fund balance for a one-time purchase whereas we can lower ongoing operation costs on both the BOE and general government budget,” said council chair Chris Palmieri. “It really is a great benefit to our residents.”
The municipal center is home to the board of education and administration, along with several Town of Southington departments including public works, building, planning and zoning, economic development, engineering, health, human resources, sewer, and youth services.
In a video presentation at the May 28 council meeting explaining the options available to the town, several town staff and board of education administration members showed support of purchasing the municipal center building.
“Besides the obvious ease of communication, there’s a synergy that’s developed over time,” said director of planning and community development Rob Phillips. “I have the ability to just walk down the stairs and talk to the building officials, inspectors, zoning officers, public work staff, and even the economic development office. It’s been really beneficial for us for communication.”
Superintendent of schools Tim Connellan said the convenience of having BOE staff and youth services in one building is beneficial, along with special education and youth counseling services.
“There is a sense of everyone working together,” said Connellan. He commented having student artwork line the hallways is an added benefit.
Economic development director Lou Perillo said the municipal center is “very convenient” for both residents and developers, who usually have to go to multiple departments at once.
Councilor Mike Riccio said buying the building is “a bargain for taxpayers,” and would save residents from another nearly $5 million in leasing payments over the next 10 years.
After the council’s public hearing, the board of finance will discuss and make a recommendation to the council. The BOF will also have a public hearing (date to be determined). The council will then vote on the recommendation and potentially add it as a referendum questions for voters to answer in November.
To comment on this story or to contact staff writer Sheridan Roy, email her at SRoy@SouthingtonObserver.com.