Saying New Canaan should consider putting off some capital spending in the near term until a clearer picture of the economy emerges, town officials last week identified nearly $700,000 earmarked for the current fiscal year that could be delayed.
Prepared with input from public works and district officials as well as the first selectman, the draft list of more than 75 items total $695,000 and range from small expenditures such $29 for signage and striping up to about $63,000 for a solar project at a town building, documents show.
Board of Finance Chair Todd Lavieri said the main question now facing the town is whether the spending could be delayed or deferred “until we have a little more clarity.”
“You guys control this,” Lavieri told First Selectman Kevin Moynihan, Public Works Director Tiger Mann and town CFO Lunda Asmani during the finance board’s April 7 meeting, held via videoconference.
“We can’t tell you what to do and how to do this. But I guess it would be our recommendation, or at least our consideration, to hold onto the spending at least for another month until we got more clarity.”
The comments came during a discussion within the finance board and no formal action has been taken on the recommendation. They also came as New Canaan and the nation grapple with a hard stop to the economy that’s seen businesses forced to slow down or shutter altogether for health reasons as unemployment claims soar.
Some of the larger items that town officials identified include $34,100 for vegetation removal at Waveny, $33,744 in equipment for firefighters, $31,426 for an incinerator at the highway garage and $26,400 for a potting shed at the Nature Center, according to the list, obtained by NewCanaanite.com through a public records request.
Moynihan said during the meeting that he would prefer to wait until at least May before making changing how New Canaan is spending on the projects.
“As of now, we are not delaying anything,” he said.
Finance board members noted that the town wouldn’t truly be saving money if the spending is simply deferred, as opposed to eliminating the listed items outright.
Presented by Asmani, the list also included fiscal year 2020 capital items totaling about $1.4 million that could not be put off for reasons of health and safety, because they’re already underway or because the work itself is already done and accounts simply haven’t been settled. It also identified hundreds of thousands of dollars in proposed capital items in next fiscal year’s budget, that could be delayed. Some of those include three New Canaan Police vehicles ($105,000), fence/backstops replacement in town parks ($50,000), masonry work at West School ($50,000), staff vehicle replacement in the Fire Department ($40,000) and vacuum leaf system in DPW ($35,000).
“The objective is to just understand if we are going to delay those,” Lavieri said. “It’s all about trying to find out what is going to happen here in the month of April to our budget and to next year’s budget. If they can be delayed, I guess the question is: Why not delay them until at least another month … and not spend that money just in case we may want that money or other reasons? We may not want to spend it. We may want to have it in the General Fund. We may want to pay down the mill rate. Who knows what we will want to do? But I guess the question really is: What is the plan for money that we apparently we can delay? It is your decision.”
Lavieri said the Board of Finance should return to the discussion in May and June and “keep looking at this, and we can advise and make suggestions.”
Superintendent of Schools Dr. Bryan Luizzi, a guest at the meeting, said when called on that the district is in the same place as the town.
“We have identified the things that are not health- and safety-related and that we can delay on, both in this year’s budget and looking ahead into next,” he said. “There are some that we have to move on soon, because of the work that needs to be done over the summer, such as the East [School] roof, into next year’s budget.”
Board of Finance member Amy Murphy Carroll said one question facing the town is whether some of the capital spending can continue at all “given the state of the world.”
“And then the flip side is: Is it a really great time to get [projects] done because people are looking for work?”
Mann said that companies appeared “very hungry” in bidding last week on a Main Street water main replacement project.
“They were very happy to see things out on the street, knowing some [municipalities] are keeping their powder dry,” Mann said. “Each contractor is very, very hungry.”