Preston residents approve $3.56M capital plan, second trooper

Preston — Voters overwhelmingly approved hiring a second resident state trooper for the remainder of the current fiscal year and a $3.56 million five-year capital projects plan in a referendum Tuesday.

Voters approved the five-year capital plan 326 to 243 Tuesday, after having narrowly rejected a larger $3.8 million capital plan with many of the same expenditures in October.

By a 331 to 238 vote, the referendum also approved spending $47,000 to hire a second resident trooper for the remaining 4½ months of the current fiscal year, another topic discussed several times since last spring’s budget cycle. The Board of Selectmen plan to use that outcome in deciding whether to place a second resident trooper in the 2018-19 budget.

First Selectman Robert Congdon said he was pleased the two questions passed, and was surprised the vote on the second state trooper was approved by such a big margin.

“I expected that to be much, much closer, or even fail,” Congdon said.

Board of Finance Chairwoman Melissa Lennon said she, too, was pleased the questions were approved. The town plans to bond for the capital projects with the start of the next fiscal year in July. But the three new school buses to be purchased this year can be ordered shortly.

Referendum turnout Tuesday was 19 percent, surpassing that of the October referendum, when about 10 percent of voters rejected the capital plan by 14 votes.

Congdon said the delay in gaining voter approval for the capital plan bond likely will be costly, as interest rates have risen by about 1 percent since October.

The capital plan contains $1.15 million for the fire department, including $550,000 to replace a 1989 pumper firetruck, $360,000 to replace a 1993 tanker firetruck, $40,000 to replace a first-responder service truck and $205,000 for 23 self-contained breathing apparatuses.

School transportation costs would total $1.2 million, including $981,100 to replace 11 school buses, spread out over five years, starting with three new buses the first year. Two nine-passenger vans would cost $77,600 and a wheelchair-lift-equipped vehicle, $77,000. The package includes $95,000 to repave the bus garage parking lot.

School improvement projects total $595,881, including $187,500 to repair the Preston Plains Middle School roof, $110,000 to repair the middle school parking area, and $105,110 to upgrade science labs, which have not been updated since the middle school was built in the 1960s, Lennon has said. Replacing 165 lockers at the middle school would cost $28,500.

At the Preston Veterans’ Memorial School, the plan includes $118,000 to replace the 10-year-old gymnasium floor and $46,771 to resurface the playground.

Board of Education Chairman Sean Nugent said the school board Finance Committee doubles as a school building committee. He said the board will try to determine whether the science labs can be renovated this summer in time for the start of the next school year.

He hopes the three new school buses in the first year of the plan will be in service by the start of the next school year.

The proposal to hire a second resident state trooper has been discussed numerous times since last spring’s budget deliberations. The Board of Finance removed the funding from the selectmen’s budget in spring, and despite support for the position during the budget town meeting, voted to fund only one trooper.

In October, residents filed a petition seeking to re-instate the second trooper position, and residents overwhelmingly approved it at a Nov. 1 town meeting. Delays in allocating the funds reduced the cost by shortening the time remaining in the current fiscal year.

c.bessette@theday.com

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