Significant bond issue needed for townwide upgrades, agrees financial advisory panel

Significant bond issue needed for townwide upgrades, agrees financial advisory panel

SMITHFIELD - Backing the town manager's recommendation for a $6.4-million renovation of the aging and cramped police station, the municipal Financial Review Commission also forecasts big-ticket construction needs ahead for the Fire and Public Works Departments.

Additionally, in its fall report to the Town Council, the commission says that while Smithfield's general population is expected to grow 2 to 4 percent in the foreseeable future, its student population from kindergarten through middle school level will rise between 16 and 19 percent.

The agency said the projected children's increase reflects "a continuing trend of young family growth in Smithfield."

The commission said it will await further data before commenting on the specific needs of the school district, whose own assessment calls for $7.5 million in building repairs for 2015 alone.

In a 32-page report, the commission concluded that "many of Smithfield's principal buildings are at the end of their useful lives. Age and deferred maintenance have resulted in repair needs that are not cost effective. Further, the growth of Smithfield's staff, functions and equipment has outgrown the capacity and functionality of buildings constructed well over 50 years ago."

The report is one more indication that taxpayers may be asked to approve a significant bond issue in the general election less than a year away.

The Town Council has scheduled a public hearing Dec. 3 on Manager Dennis Finlay's six-year, $69.9-million capital improvements plan that reflects $31.3 million in bonding for 2015, including the school and police station repairs, $9.6 million for expansion of the Greenville Public Library, and $4 million for construction of a North End fire station at a site yet to be determined.

After the hearing, the council will decide which, if any, of the proposed projects will go on the ballot in 2014. The council also has the authority to change the priorities and push some of the requests to future years.

The commission, a five-member volunteer advisory group headed by retired educator Rose Marie Cipriano, described the police station as outmoded, overcrowded, a security risk, and inadequately equipped for the needs of female officers.

The report points out that when the station was built the department had 25 employees, a number that has since risen to 59.

The department sought a $9.5-million bonding vote in 2010 that would have doubled the size of the 12,000-square-foot, 40-year-old station on Pleasant View Avenue. But the Town Council at the time was cool to the spending idea because of the weak economy and the department pulled its request off the table.

The Financial Review Commission's report says renovation is more economical than an alternative of building a new public safety complex and that the current site is ideal because of its central location.

It estimated that bonding for the project would increase the tax rate by 38.5 cents a thousand, adding about $98 to the bill for a house at Smithfield's median valuation of $256,000.

Although the commission stopped short of endorsing Fire Department projects pending further study, it said it recognized that improvements are needed.

Demand for services is increasing, the report said, especially in the northern section including Bryant University and Fidelity investments.

The report notes that while the town's official population is just over 21,000, its daytime population - the most active time for Fire Department rescue runs - swells to nearer 40,000, "hence we service more than it appears."

Also, the commission wrote, the vast majority of the department's 4,238 calls in 2012 were for medical situations, and Smithfield "has a disproportionately large and growing elderly population" compared to other local communities in the state.

According to the report, the number of emergency medical responses is growing by about 200 a year, and the northern district is farthest from existing fire stations.

The commission took no immediate stand on replacement of the Public Works facility off Pleasant View Avenue because it hasn't seen independent cost figures, but acknowledged that the 1950s structure needs replacement.

Town Manager Finlay has recommended $6.75 million for that in 2020.

The commission did not address the proposed library project in its report, but said it would do so later if asked to by the council.

Other commission members are Mirek Kula, Kenneth J. Sousa, Joseph Passaretti, Roger Warren, and alternate Corissa Bernier.

Next Tuesday's public hearing begins at 7 p.m. in Town Hall.