Town House preservation petition simply does not make sense

Apr 29, 2018

To the Editor:

Citizens of Marion,

There is currently a Citizen Petition, Article 36, to be presented at Town Meeting that proposes scrapping the entire Town House Renovation Plan and limiting Town House renovations to $200,000 per year. Mr. Ted North, the author, does not call it renovation but a “preserve and repair approach.” I call it offering a Band-Aid to a hemophiliac.

His proposal might have made sense in the 1970s, but decades without maintenance and upgrades to the Town House’s systems need far more than what a limited budget of $200,000 per year can do. Further, the petition gives no financial commitment after the first year, so it is very possible that work could start but remain unfinished with no funding approval in subsequent years.

With all the time, professional expertise, and financial expenditure the Town of Marion has committed to moving the Town House renovations forward over the past six years, this petition is an example of ignorance and folly. Mr. North can be applauded for attempting to save the Town money, but not like this. The Town’s capacity to fund this project has already been approved by the Capital Planning and Improvement Committee and is well within its means to fund using standard debt financing.

Mr. North and his compatriots either have no understanding or are ignoring the work needed to bring the Town House into compliance with State and local codes. To spread out major repairs over time cancels out all economies of scale of the Renovation Proposal and could easily double the total cost. For example, the most pressing issue, abatement of hazardous materials, would take at least three years to complete with the spending restriction of $200,000 per year. Is it fair for town employees to be working in a construction zone for three years?

Mr. North claims that “business will go on as usual.” Who is he kidding? There are electrical, plumbing, and waterproofing upgrades to be done, all of which require hiring outside contractors. None of these improvements will get completed without extending the project far into the future, well beyond the 18- month schedule of the Town House Renovation Proposal.

There has been endless criticism of the amount spent to date on feasibility studies and design. These expenditures, including the study for a new building at the VFW site, reflect the townspeople’s eagerness to create a code-compliant, accessible and efficient Town House. All were approved by the voters and were absolutely necessary to establish an accurate budget in order to renovate and keep the character and functions of the Village intact. Time and again at multiple public meetings, the consensus has been to invest in a renovated Town House.

The logical and prudent course of action is to move forward with the Town House Renovation Plan as proposed, and get it done properly and in a timely manner. Please vote YES for the Town House Renovation Plan at Town Meeting on May 14.

Barry Steinberg

Comments (3)
Posted by: Ted North | Apr 30, 2018 20:46


Mr. Steinberg, it’s important to recognize your wife Meg Steinberg’s long-term participation and commitment as a member of the Marion Town House Committee (THC) and her support of its goals. It’s important for our small town of 2,500 taxpayer to seek out folks like Meg wiling to serve on boards and committees developing programs and guide policy decision for our community.  

At issue is a fundamental disagreement on an important community policy decision. Simply stated the THC has developed a $14 million” Gut and Replace” plan for the Town House (TH).  This would be the largest capital spending project in the history of Marion requiring debt financing lasting more than a generation. The forecasted financing costs, interest expense, of $5,4 million represents 68 percent of the $7.95 million of construction costs. It’s understandable that given the magnitude of the financing costs the THC would like to see it buried in the tax rate and not disclose its to taxpayers.  Please remember these are THC and Town administration developed numbers not mine.

As the result of 2009 investigative report, The Town House (TH) was determined to be structurally sound.   A little TCL is what the TH needs not a massive conversion to a three-story administrative office building complete with a third-floor executive suite and elevator. New windows, paint, roof, electrical work to complement the newly installed boiler is what is needed to keep the TH a viable village landmark. Its taxpayer affordable too.  

The Town House Citizens’ petition does not cap Town House expenditures at $200.000 annually as you suggest in your post.

The Article 36 appropriation requested is a one-time allocation for the facilities manager’s budget. It’s for use in developing a TH triage needs list and the five-year rolling forecast for fixing and repairing TH deferred maintenance and necessary repairs.  Modest funding is included for immediate “fix it” needs while the staff work is being completed for developing the required prioritized expenditures list and forecast. All additional future spending must be approved by Town Meeting.

The program envision by this bylaw does not contemplate any major “Gut and Replace” of the Town House interior. This is not necessary. There is no third-floor executive suite with private elevator contemplated, no expansive and unnecessary conference and meeting rooms, no expensive water proof document storage for the inherently wet TH basement. Nor are there expensive expenditures for all new furniture, equipment and fixtures. Marion’s 2,500 taxpayer cannot afford paying for a new three story executive world headquarters as envisioned by the THC. Consider the Capital spending list of $40 million over the next four years and the $68.4 million on the Capital Committee’s 10-year forecast listed in the Town Report.     

If Article 36 bylaw repair and replacement option for TH is a “Band-Aid for a hemophiliac” the Band -Aid is the way to go.  The hemophiliac is saved and lives a long life sieving as a community landmark and Town administrative office.

Posted by: Semwam | May 01, 2018 08:15

Mr. North,

I wish you would stop exaggerating facts. The construction costs is $7.9m not including CPA funds. There is no third floor “executive world headquarters “ the town administrators office will actually be reduced from curt 832 sq. Ft. To 323 sq. Ft.

Wayne Mattson

Posted by: Brian M Canto | May 02, 2018 10:34

Maybe its just me but 2500 tax payers paying for a 7.9M project plus 5.4M in interest cost doesnt exactly sound like the best way to spend our tax dollars, especially for a building that 18 people occupy on a busy day and most residents visit once or twice a year.

I like the look of the building just as much as the next resident, I'm not a village resident but I appreciate the atmosphere and feel of it and I realize the TH is a big part of that.  What I completely disagree with is the reckless spending for a full gut rehab when the building could be improved over the course of time.  Our town has bigger fish to fry (roads, waste water treatment facility, sewer function, etc) that would benefit the WHOLE town.

Why do we all of a sudden NOW need to undertake the largest capital spending project in our town's history?

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