BELGRADE — Residents approved $157,000 to help cover cost overruns in the construction of the new Town Office Saturday morning at a special town meeting, but not without some hard questions for town officials.

Construction of the new Town Office on Route 27 in a former gravel pit, for which residents at a special town meeting last year approved up to $1.2 million, had unanticipated costs of more than $206,000. That pushed the project cost well beyond the $60,000 in contingency built into the budget, so selectmen asked residents at Saturday’s special town meeting, attended by about 50 people, to approve using $157,000 from the town’s undesignated fund to cover the cost of the unexpected extra work.

The unexpected items which weren’t factored into the original budget included $52,100 for engineering services; $11,200 for a water filtration system for the entire building, which was added after tests showed a high level of salt in the water; $17,500 in additional site work to make changes to a drainage and retention pond and add a septic system for the water filtration system; $39,900 for loam and seeding; $17,700 for gravel needed to help raise the building by three inches; and $68,100 to pay for materials that turned out to be custom or special order items.

Residents overwhelmingly approved the request at the half-hour-long meeting but not before some pointed questions about what happened, and how, to cause the overruns.

Resident George Seel asked specifically why engineering services weren’t factored into the original estimate, adding an unanticipated $52,100 to the cost.

“Why weren’t those costs anticipated?” he asked. “Those are fairly typical costs for a project of this nature.”

Michael Barrett, chairman of the Board of Selectpersons, acknowledged those costs should have been included.

“In a word, basically, we overlooked it,” Barrett said. “We made a mistake.”

Resident Melanie Jewell said town officials should have anticipated there could be salt in the water at the site, as has been discovered in some other wells in the area. She asked if officials knew about the salt but didn’t add the cost of dealing with it to the budget to get funding for the town office approved with a plan to add funding later. She also asked why officials didn’t hold a special town meeting sooner, as soon as they knew costs would be higher than what was approved by residents and before the project was completed.

Selectperson Gary Mahler said town officials absolutely did not intentionally propose a lower-than-required budget to get it approved by residents. He said the last thing they wanted to do was to come back to residents to cover a cost overrun. He said while at least one neighbor to the site has had water issues, there is good water across the street.

Selectperson Ernie Rice said they wanted to make sure the additional amount they sought from residents was the right amount, so they waited for all the bills to come in for the project before having the vote so they would know the true final cost.

Rice said selectmen were caught by surprise by the $68,100 in additional costs due to specified materials being custom and special order items. He said they didn’t know when the project was designed those items would need to be custom made or specially ordered.

“We were very careful and tried to be frugal — this board is very frugal,” Rice said. “Some of the products on the list we didn’t realized were going to be special.”

In response to a question from resident Scott Damren on what the town would do if the request to take the needed money from fund balance was rejected, Town Manager Carrie Castonguay said the town would have to come up with the money some other way. She said that would probably mean closing the library temporarily, reducing transfer station hours, closing the Town Office some days, and probably closing the Center for All Seasons for the rest of the year.

She said there is currently about $1.5 million in the undesignated fund.

Howard Holinger, chairman of the Budget Committee, said he attended meetings of town officials about the project as the unanticipated items came up. He said it was clear the selectpersons and town manager were wrestling with how it happened and made their decisions based on what they thought was best for the town. He said it would be misleading to imply they were negligent for not being able to see those things coming ahead of time.

Selectperson Rick Damren said officials didn’t put enough money in contingency for the project in an effort to save money. He said if they’d put 10 percent of the total project cost into contingency, they would have had enough to complete the work without coming back to a special town meeting to seek more money.

The new office opened in June.

Residents also, without debate, approved taking $409 from the undesignated fund to cover the difference between what was appropriated at the Annual Town Meeting for debt payments for the project and the actual cost of the required payment for the current year.

They also agreed to accept an in-kind donation from David Hallowell Construction, of Belgrade, to provide excavation and site work for Plan 5 at Pine Grove Cemetery, which is the next phase of the cemetery expansion.

The donation was made with the stipulation the town purchase and install a bench engraved with David Hallowell’s name in his memory, which officials estimated would cost $2,000.

Town officials estimated the in-kind donated work, which would involve removing a sand hill and putting in a gravel road and digging ditches for a water line, will have a value of about $50,000.

Judy Hallowell, who runs the construction firm, said the donation is to mark the fifth anniversary of her husband’s death. David Hallowell was 56 when he died of brain cancer in 2011.

Keith Edwards — 621-5647

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Twitter: @kedwardskj

This story has been corrected to reflect the cost of the bench.