TOWNSEND -- The chairman of the Board of Selectmen dismissed concerns from the board's newest selectmen Tuesday night that the capital appropriation passed at annual Town Meeting on May 6 may have been illegal.
Selectman Carolyn Smart, who was elected April 28, said she was concerned that a vote at Town Meeting provided funding for capital projects for fiscal 2016 that had not been reviewed by the Capital Planning Committee, which Smart also serves on.
Town Administrator Andrew Sheehan had recommended a new method of borrowing to fund $729,285 worth of capital projects requested for fiscal 2015 and fiscal 2016, rather than appropriating a smaller amount as the town has traditionally done, to clear a number of capital projects off the list of requests.
Smart said the committee only reviews and prioritizes capital projects for the coming fiscal year, in this case fiscal 2015, and that the committee's projected five-year plan that is presented to selectmen includes projects that are on the horizon but that have not been reviewed.
"We only do a year at a time because that's all that's in our bylaw so I don't understand how we can have fiscal 2016 projects on there," Smart said.
Chairwoman Sue Lisio said that town counsel had reviewed the article and not found any issues.
"If there was something glaring about this whole process that was illegal, I would hope that our professional attorneys would have figured that out," Lisio said.
The two were divided on the issue of whether everything on the five-year plan had been reviewed and placed on the capital plan, and therefore could legally be funded.
Lisio said that she assumed that if the Capital Planning Committee included an item on its five-year plan, that made it part of the capital plan, a statement that Selectman Colin McNabb agreed with. Smart said the five-year plan simply gave an idea of upcoming requests, but only the upcoming year's requests could be reviewed and prioritized.
Smart also said that if Lisio was correct about the five-year plan being approved by the Capital Planning Committee, then there was no reason why a proposed fire-station headquarters would not have been able to go before voters at last fall's Special Town Meeting. That project did not go to Town Meeting then because it had not been placed on the capital plan, although Smart said that it was on the five-year plan at that time.
Lisio said that she wanted to have "a cooling-off period" before continuing the long-running debates over capital planning.
"If your hope is that you're going to convince me that what we did was wrong when our attorney told us it was fine, you're not going to convince me," Lisio said.
Sheehan said the problem was the capital-planning bylaw, which he said needed to be clarified. He said holding a work session with selectmen, the Capital Planning Committee, the Finance Committee and the town department heads would help make sure everyone was on the same page with the new bylaw.
"We have to acknowledge that we have a broken mousetrap, and we need to find a way to build a better one," Sheehan said.
The continued infighting between selectmen and members of the Capital Planning Committee was not helping the town function well, he said, and was alienating the department heads who rely on the capital-planning process for funding.
"We're only hurting ourselves to continue the internal bickering. We're looking more and more like Washington and I don't think that's anything that we should be trying to emulate," Sheehan said.
Lisio suggested having the meeting to review the capital-planning process over the summer.
"All laws are subject to change in order to define them better, and that's all we're saying. Let's start again, let's look at what we have and let's go forward, but I'm not willing to do it tonight," Lisio said.
Follow Chelsea Feinstein on Twitter and Tout @CEFeinstein.