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Council considers postponing Hildreth House Phase 2 funding request

When the Council on Aging (COA) board met on April 21, Director Debbie Thompson asked a question that was likely on the minds of many residents—will the economic downturn brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic deliver a fatal blow to the warrant article asking the town to fund Phase 2, the $4.3 million addition to Hildreth House?

Thompson said that with some residents out of work, the town’s ban on nonessential spending, and state aid being threatened by Massachusetts’ projected loss of revenues, the article may be doomed. She added that it might be better to “show our fiscal responsibility” by pulling the article out of the warrant for this year’s Spring Town Meeting and asking for the funding next year.

Lucy Wallace, Select Board liaison to the COA, said there was merit in that idea. “You guys are the grown-ups in the room,” she said. “But,” she added, “you’ve been asked to postpone it so many times.” She also wondered whether the state’s economic problems might result in lower construction bids, which would reduce the cost of the project.

A few other board members said they were opposed to waiting because there are more projects in the capital pipeline, and if they pull the funding request for this one from the warrant, it would lose its place in line. Member Carl Sciple said he thought there would be no harm in leaving the article in the warrant. “If it fails we can put it forward again next year,” he added.

But alternate member Connie Larrabee questioned if that would be allowed without modifying the plan or the funding source. Wallace said zoning bylaw articles that fail must wait two years to be proposed again, but she wasn’t sure about articles to fund capital projects. “I don’t know if we’ve ever faced a situation like this where a project comes back again,” she said. Member Guy Oliva asked if the board would have to get a new estimate for the project if the article were postponed, and where the funding for that estimate would come from.

Chair Beth Williams told the board the discussion should be tabled until it knows the answer to Larrabee’s question. Both Wallace and Thompson said they would look into it and have an answer in time for the board’s next meeting, scheduled for May 19.

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