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Finance Panel Sharpens Focus On Fairfield Hills Costs



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Finance Panel Sharpens Focus On Fairfield Hills Costs

By Steve Bigham

The Legislative Council’s finance committee met Tuesday night to begin the difficult task of determining how much the town can afford to spend at Fairfield Hills. Its charge is to come up with financial guidelines for the 185-acre campus over the next three years.

Once in place, the guidelines will provide the town a place to start – numbers it can include on the Capital Improvement (CIP) list.

But coming up with an exact figure is no easy task, say finance committee members. The town still does not have a sale price from the state and no one knows for sure what the town will use the campus for.

“I think we’ll have a better idea of costs once we have a better understanding of what Fairfield Hills will look like once we do buy it,” noted finance committee chairman John Kortze. “It’s not the finance committee or the council’s purview to say ‘we’re going to build two municipal buildings, a school, and five commercial buildings.’ Once we know, then we can determine clearer numbers.”

For now, the committee is forced to make assumptions and to determine where the town will be financially in the coming years. All signs indicate that the town’s financial picture looks bright. That’s good news when you consider the re-development of Fairfield Hills could cost the town more than $20 million.

Some finance committee members have expressed concern that the council may be jumping the gun by establishing a process to set up guidelines and an overall direction for Fairfield Hills. The issue still rests with the Board of Selectmen. However, coming up with guidelines has been the charge of Council Chairman Pierre Rochman, who believes strongly that the council needs to be prepared ahead of time to avoid having to take a rushed, uninformed vote.

“We’re getting closer to the meat of the matter,” Mr Kortze said. “I think once we have a general idea of what’s going to materialize up there, we’ll be in a much better position to know what it’s going to cost and what type of return on our investment we’ll have.”

The town is currently in negotiations with the state over the possible sale of the 185-acre former state mental health hospital. Eventually, the question “do we want to buy it” will have to be presented to the taxpayers. As council member Melissa Pilchard points out, both the council and the public need a better financial picture before being asked to say “yes” or “no.”

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