During the town's annual town meeting Wednesday night, Madison First Selectman Fillmore McPherson said the town's grand list grew about $5.6 million last year, bringing the total grand list to about $3.5 billion.
He also told about two dozen people who attended the meeting that the town's debt service will be flat through the next few years, at about $1.7 million through 2015-2016. In 2016-2017, the debt service will drop to $1.2 million after one set of bonds is paid off.
"The debt service will drop about a half million dollars," he said. "That's enough to support about $6 million dollars worth of borrowing. I'm not saying we should borrow $6 mlllion, but we could do that without increasing the amount in the bond budget."
McPherson also discussed recent projects, current projects, and a few that are on the town's wish list.
On the subject of the town's financial health, McPherson said that the town underspent it's budget in fiscal year 2011-2012 by $533,000, mainly because "last winter didn't happen," and the amount spent on snow removal and heating was less than anticipated. The school portion of the town budget was $269,000 less than anticipated. Revenue over budget, excluding FEMA reiumbursements, was a healthy $687,000, due in large part to the good work of the Madison Tax Collector's office, McPherson said.
"It was a good year for collecting taxes," he said, following the meeting. "Much credit needs to go to Alma [Carroll, director of town services/tax collector].
McPherson also noted during his presentation that the town refinanced $9.2 million in bonds in October 2012, saving the town $862,000 over the next 18 years, including $324,000 over the next four years. He also pointed out that both Moody and Fitch have reaffirmed the town's AAA rating, the highest you can get, making Madison more highly rated "than the sovereign US Goverment."
While the grand list growth of $5.6 million in 2012 was signficantly less than the grand list growth of $21.6 million in 2011, it was so because Madison Beach Hotel, one of the town's largest taxpayers, came back online in 2011, and because people bought more cars in 2011, than they did in 2012.
The grand list represents all of the taxable property in town. The grand list, along with the mill rate, which will be set after the town's budget for the next fiscal year is finalized, helps determine how much people and entitites in town pay in taxes.
McPherson reviewed several projects recently completed, underway, or being planned. The Surf Club wall, which was partially destroyed after Hurricane Irene, was rebuilt and is stronger than ever, he said. Middle Beach Road was also rebuilt following damage by Irene, and wasn't quite finished when Superstorm Sandy hit, McPherson said. Despite the fact that it was not finished, it held up and McPherson expressed confidence it is built to withstand future storms as well.
Work on Constitution Park is underway, he said, along with the Strong Center, where a new turf football field is being installed, along with other ammenties. Mention of the Strong Center elicited polite applause from a small and enthusiastic group of Strong Center supporters, who were among the few members of the audience in attendance who were not town employees.
The downtown center beautification project is also underway, McPherson said, showing off a piece of paving tile projected for use in that project. The East Wharf and West Wharf piers, both of them damaged during Irene as well, are in the planning stages, he said. He noted that planning on the piers is proceeding, but is complicated, because much of the work involves the portion of the piers that is underwater.
McPherson also reviewed the town's prescription drug card program, the donation of an ambulance to Broad Channel, efforts by the Madison Police Department to get CALEA certification, and the upcoming revaluation.
"Revaluation inspections will be coming up over the next several months," he said. People doing the inspections will be certified with the police department, he said, and have an ID not only from the police department, but also from their company.
McPherson also discussed some upcoming capital needs.
"I'm not saying we have to go out and spend all of this money," he said. Rather, he said, he was interested in getting the conversations started about the projects.
First on the list of potential capital needs is improving the town's radio capabilities for its emergency service providers, including the two volunteer fire companies, the police department, and the public works crews, who often have to work as a team during emergency recovery efforts. McPherson said the town has gotten lucky during past emergencies because service did not go out, but he said the radio capablity, as it is currently set up, is potentially vulnerable during a big storm like Irene or Sandy.
"This comes from lessons learned during Irene and Sandy," he said. "Madison is a long, skinny town. We rely on radio connections during public emergencies ... we are concerned we have a vulnerable situation. A couple of trees fall the wrong way, and we lose what we have. We need something more than a landline, something more robust."
McPherson estimated it may take about $1 million, and some advance planning and engineering, to do the job correctly.
Second on the list was installing full emergency generation at Daniel Hand High School, McPherson said, allowing it to serve as an emergency shelter. The high school is ideal because it has showers, areas to set up cots and other ammenities, he said. He said the rough estimate for that project was also "One million-ish."
Other projects on the potential capital needs list included the next phase of work on the town garage (one million-ish as well), and Academy School (which could be anywhere from $1 million to $10 million, or more or less, depending on what the town decides to do with that).
At the end of the meeting, which ran for about 45 minutes, he asked if anyone had questions.
No one did.