WINTHROP — Security updates and building assessments for Winthrop schools could cost more than $200,000.

These are two of the largest capital improvements proposed for Winthrop’s 2019-2020 municipal spending plan. The proposal calls for spending $8,711,899, an increase of $1,203,702 — or 16 percent — from this fiscal year’s $7,508,197. A total of $1,144,766 in capital improvement expenditures is being proposed, which represents 13.1% of the total spending plan.

Department heads presented their list of needs at a pair of budget workshops last month.

Town Manager Jeffrey Kobrock said he thinks this is the first time there has been a comprehensive list like this.

“It’s a matter of picking through things and the council deciding what’s a priority,” he said.

Cornelia Brown, interim superintendent of Winthrop schools, said having a building assessment done would put the town in a better position to receive funding when the state Department of Education considers capital construction projects. The school committee expects that call to come in two years; if that window is missed, it could be another eight years before Winthrop would be in a position to receive state funding.

“The buildings haven’t had a real comprehensive look since 1990,” Brown said, explaining that the commercial lifespan of a building is 40 years.

They can last longer, but requirements change, she said, citing Americans with Disabilities Act compliance as an example. Portions of the Winthrop Grade School are as much as 66 years old, while the middle school is 48 and the high school is 16.

An assessment, which is anticipated to cost $125,000, could take seven months to complete. Of that time, four to six months would be an architectural study to assess building capacity and space allocation, and it would evaluate school systems, such as code compliance. It would take another month to get proposals to do needed work.

Another $100,000 of proposed capital improvement spending is for security updates in town, primarily for the schools. Kobrock would not say what those updates would entail, because he did not want people to know where the town’s security is lacking.

Another capital improvement expense, recommended by the police chief, Ryan Frost, was $20,000 for future improvements at the town’s communications center. He said that money would be set aside to pay for communications upgrades in the next two to four years.

“We’re trying to chip away at (communications center upgrades) because it’s going to be big bucks,” Frost said, predicting that those upgrades could cost $300,000 to $500,000, “if not more.”

Contractual wages, health insurance and utility costs accounted for much of the noncapital improvement spending increase, as had been reflected in the school’s spending plan.

Higher electricity costs increased the Fire Department’s proposed electricity spending by $4,000.

“We were not sure what the new station was going to use, due in part to the new HVAC and more use with a fitness room,” Fire Chief Dan Brooks said. “We did bump up the electricity some, but it was mostly what we carried for the old station.”

In 2017, the department spent $1,902.20 on electricity. Last year $3,500 was budgeted.

Public works spending also contributes to the proposed increase, with two new positions being recommended, Kobrock said, and contractual wage increases for the four existing employees. Salt also is a spending driver.

Public Works Director Matthew Burnham told councilors the town had lost its salt supplier. Last year the town paid $3.50 per yard, and this year he anticipates to spend $6 to $7 per yard. In total, the town approved $45,000 for salt in its 2018-2019 spending plan, but it went over budget with a final cost of $67,903.

Burnham requested $55,000 for the 2019-2020 spending plan. He also increased the sand spending to $30,000, $5,000 more than the 2019-2020 plan’s $25,000.

Winthrop’s current tax rate is $18.31 per $1,000 of assessed property. Taxes on a $150,000 home, for example, are $2,746.50 before any exemptions. It’s too early to say yet what the next tax rate could be, because the school budget and the county budget have not been finalized yet.

The town still is recovering from a $1.5 million deficit caused by a mistake in 2015 involving a revenue item in the school budget that accidentally was counted twice, and the town did not raise enough money to cover expenditures.

 

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