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Hartford Approves Higher Library Costs

Hartford — The Selectboard voted to use town reserve funds to help offset a budget shortfall in the West Hartford Library renovations yesterday evening.

In a 4-3 vote, the board approved spending $45,000 to help move the project along. The library’s Board of Trustees contributed another $50,000 to the renovation effort, rising total funds for the project to $903,000. The Selectboard’s decision also established a contract that gave spending power on the project to Town Manager Hunter Rieseberg.

During his update to the board, Rieseberg said construction bids for the project — which was originally budgeted at $750,000 — came in higher than expected, forcing adjustments and cut “certain elements” of the initial design.

“It’s unfortunate,” he said, “but we’ve started to remove things, like finishes or more expensive trim.”

Rieseberg cautioned that “if we really take any more out of this, we’re going to gut the project.”

His proposal to the board was to add roughly $43,000 from the town to the project. Reactions varied among the board members.

Before yesterday evening, funding stemmed from three distinct sources: $500,000 from borrowing; almost $224,000 in insurance proceeds; and roughly $85,000 in aid from Federal Emergency Management Agency for damages sustained during Tropical Storm Irene in 2011.

In total, about $809,000 would go toward the project. But that still wouldn’t fully cover the cost, Rieseberg said. With town funds and a trustees’ contribution, funding would shoot above $900,000.

Selectman F.X. Flinn and Chairman Chuck Wooster said that despite the rising costs to complete the project, they felt too much hard work had been done to give up on it now.

Selectman Alex DeFelice said he’d like to make a motion to authorize the town manager to sign the contract.

But Selectman Ken Parker felt that much spending was beyond the original agreements the Selectboard made.

“I’m chagrined that this thing has a bloat factor,” he said. “We’re getting up toward spending a $1 million on this facility. I’m not going to vote for this.”

Simon Dennis, although admitting he didn’t know the ins and outs of construction costs, was surprised to see that bids came in so high when the board was assured by Rieseberg that a $750,000 budget would be more than enough for renovations.

“At some point, I would like an explanation for why it’s more expensive than we could handle,” Dennis said.

His suggestion was to use the trustees’ contribution in place of reserve money and continue forward with cost trimming.

“If that ($50,000) were used to offset the deficit,” then it reduces budget costs, he said.

Fewer than 10 residents attended the meeting. Most were trustees or with Friends of the West Hartford Library.

Thomas Hazen, chairman of the Board of Library Trustees, said “amen” when the Selectboard voted in favor.

“We’re finally moving forward,” he said. “It’s been quite a battle.”

Hazen said he was hopeful that more individual contributions would flow into the renovation funds now that the Selectboard had voted in favor of a contract agreement.

“At this point, we just want our library,” he said. “I think people will privately donate.”

After the update on the West Hartford Library, the Selectboard rejected by a vote of 4 to 2 a proposal to increase police patrols along Route 4 from exit 1 off Interstate 89 to the Hartland town line in the hopes that more enforcement could help decrease the number of fatal accidents.

The measure would cost about $500 a day in operation fees, Rieseberg said .

Zack Peterson can be reached at 603-727-3211 or zpeterson@vnews.com.