BRUNSWICK, Maine — Brunswick town councilors split Monday night on how to fund nearly $1 million in costs to renovate the new Town Hall slated to open next year.
The council will hold a public hearing Nov. 18 to determine whether renovations should be paid through borrowing, or from the town’s unassigned fund balance.
The new estimate for renovations at the 85 Union St. building, currently used by Bowdoin College as the McLellan Building, was disclosed on Monday.
Total project costs include nearly $805,000 for renovations, $60,000 for a contingency fund and $88,000 for architect fees.
Town Councilor Margo Knight said costs are likely to drop after construction manager Warren Construction has a detailed design to begin seeking bids from subcontractors. Those bids are expected by Dec. 9.
Town Manager Gary Brown added that the town is expected to have balances left over from the police station project and other accounts that could be used to offset renovation costs.
“It’s still a moving target,” Knight said, “but I don’t see it going up or down by that much.”
Knight recommended the town use $1 million from its surplus to pay for the project. She said it would have a far smaller impact on taxpayers than a bond would.
If, for instance, a 15-year bond is taken out with level principal payments, it would increase the property tax rate by more than a quarter of 1 percent in the first year of debt service and would continue over the life of the bond.
But if the council decides to use fund balance surplus instead, it could save taxpayers up to $200,000, Knight said.
“We will have no interest payments over those years,” she said.
While councilors Jerry Favreau, David Watson and Chairwoman Suzan Wilson favored the idea, other councilors express concern over the proposal.
Councilor Sarah Brayman said use of unassigned funds could put the town in a troubling spot next budget season if state revenue sharing comes in lower than expected.
She said that’s why the council should consider using the unassigned funds up front and then consider taking out a bond in the future if projected revenues for the next fiscal year come up short.
Councilor Benet Pols liked that idea.
“I’m not proposing we use the credit card,” he said. “I’m proposing that we have a credit card available in case we need the credit card.”
Councilor Ben Tucker expressed concerns over hearing about a $1 million surplus in unassigned funds for the first time on Monday.
Brown explained that the surplus only partly comes as a result of last year’s budget.
“We didn’t simply collect an extra million dollars last year,” he said. “It was a function of several activities with our overall funding situations.”
That includes $500,000 in property taxes collected from the tax increment financing districts at Brunswick Landing when negotiations were delayed during the 2013 fiscal year; $75,000 saved from a change in how compensated absences work for employees; lower-than-projected expenditures last year, and higher-than-projected revenues last year.
The town plans to move out of its council chambers in Room 217 of Brunswick Station, 16 Station Ave., by mid-December.
In the meantime, several committees will have to meet at Curtis Memorial Library and the former Hawthorne School.
The move would allow Warren Construction to begin working sooner on the town’s new council chambers in the Union Street building.
The move would also prompt Bowdoin to move its offices from the first two floors of the McLellan Building while Warren Construction renovates Room 217 into new college offices.
If everything goes as planned, the town would begin using the new council chambers on Union Street by February and would fully move into the new Town Hall by March.