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Soaring building costs have raised the price of Richmond’s town center project. Will residents OK borrowing another $1 million?

Richmond Town Hall illustration

An artist's rendering depicts the new Town Hall and community center to be built on State Road in Richmond. Voters will be asked to approve borrowing an additional $1 million to cover escalating costs associated with the project.

RICHMOND — With the cost of building materials, labor and borrowing all soaring this year, so has the price tag on the long-awaited town center project.

Those factors have raised the total cost of the project — including a combined Town Hall and library building — from the initial $6.8 million to about $8.2 million.

To close that gap, town leaders have come up with a plan to borrow an additional $1 million, if residents approve by a two-thirds majority. The remaining funds will come from a variety of other sources.

The special town meeting on the matter will be held right before the annual town meeting at 6:30 p.m. May 18 at Richmond Consolidated School.

At last May’s annual town meeting, residents voted 270 to 34 to authorize up to $6.8 million in financing, which included $500,000 in short-term debt, now already used to pay off preliminary expenses.

Voters welcomed the idea that the rural community, without a identifiable “downtown,” would now have a town center, with the new Town Hall, library and community facilities next to the Richmond Consolidated School.

The project to replace the 100-year-old, badly deteriorated Town Hall and cramped, rented library space on Route 41 near the West Stockbridge line is the largest since the school’s expansion and renovation 21 years ago. Two previous attempts to fund a town hall and library fell short by a handful of votes in 2002 and 2005.

Based on consultations with Treasurer-Collector Paul Lisi and the town auditors, taxpayers will be spared any impact from the additional borrowing, Town Administrator Danielle Fillio said Tuesday during a joint meeting of the Select Board and Finance Committee.

The board and committee members voted unanimously to hold the special town meeting and to finance $1 million in additional long-term debt — a 30-year bond at a 2.5 percent interest rate.

“We are predicting based on all the numbers and figures we have from the state at this time and the budget that we have put together, the new debt would have no impact on the current tax rate,” she told the Eagle on Wednesday.

For borrowing of an additional $1 million, the annual debt service on the loan is $422,000, Fillio said. The estimated tax rate at $12.74 per $1,000 of assessed value would be unchanged from the current year, and the average homeowner’s tax bill would increase by only 23 cents.

“That seems like an easy sale to the town, acceptable to voters,” Select Board member Roger Manzolini said. Also, it would leave the town with ample cash reserves and other assets “that makes us look less risky as a borrower,” he said.

“That’s the best way to go for the town to keep our reserves where they were, and keep our bond rating at A-plus,” Lisi agreed.

Other town leaders, including Select Board Chairman Neal Pilson and Finance Committee Chairman Robert Gniadek, also voiced support for the additional funding.

So did Pat Callahan, leader of the project as head of the town’s Municipal Building Committee, speaking out against additional borrowing that would exceed $1 million, as discussed but then dropped during the meeting.

“We can’t do this again,” she pointed out. “If this fails, and there’s no building, we’ve got two buildings (Town Hall and the library) with unhealthy air, wasted heat, not enough space, falling-down plaster.”

If the additional $1 million is approved, a vote would be held in June to exclude the annual debt service of $422,000 from the town’s tax levy. That would require a simple majority.

The plan cobbled together at Tuesday’s meeting also includes a likely combination of funding from federal American Rescue Plan Act funds, free cash reserves and donations from library supporters for an additional $646,000, which includes money already being spent for preliminary costs.

“There’s no way that this project can be pushed down the road,” said Manzolini, a leading advocate of the town center plan. “It’s now or never.”

Clarence Fanto can be reached at cfanto@yahoo.com or on Twitter @BE_cfanto.

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