Community Center Vote Is Hot Topic in Newport

Valley News Correspondent
Published: 5/1/2018 12:01:45 AM
Modified: 5/1/2018 3:04:07 PM

Voting on the town budget, money to design a new community center, election of officers and other articles on the town warrant will be Tuesday, May 8, from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. at the Newport Opera House.

Newport — Among the many issues to be decided in a May 8 Town Meeting, a possible decision to spend $200,000 for the design of a new community center has led Selectboard candidates to take sides.

At the upcoming Town Meeting a week from today, voters will accept or reject a $10 million budget plan and decide a contested Selectboard race as well as such key issues as allowing the lottery game keno in town and entering into a 25-year solar energy purchase agreement to power town and school facilities.

The 27-article warrant also includes a proposed property tax relief program aimed at encouraging redevelopment of older buildings.

But it’s the recreation center article appropriating $200,000 for the design and related fees for a new community center that has garnered the most attention. If voters approve the expenditure, a bond vote for construction likely will be presented next year, though the exact cost of the center is still being developed.

“We have outgrown that space,” Recreation Director P.J. Lovely said about the existing recreation center, which was built in 1940 as an armory and became the recreation center in 1967. “I don’t expect it to last much longer.”

Lovely said the firm hired by the town has determined that the least expensive option is to build new — most likely on the town’s existing Little League field — instead of renovating the former Towle Elementary School or expanding the current facility on Belknap Avenue.

The requested appropriation would cover partial design of the structure and coming up with a final “guaranteed maximum” cost, Lovely said.

Todd Fratzel, vice chairman of the Selectboard, who is facing a challenge for his third, three-year term from Cindy Conroy, the wife of the town’s fire chief, said one of his reasons for seeking re-election again is to support the proposed new community center.

“I want to see it built. This will give us a design and we will come back with something we feel Newport can afford,” Fratzel said.

Conroy, who also has a son on the fire department, said that with voters turning down a pay raise for teachers in March, Newport has more pressing priorities.

“I am not against a community center, but (I am concerned about) how we are going about it,” said Conroy, who has worked at the Newport Health Center for 25 years. “We need to do more work before spending $200,000.”

Conroy said she has been encouraged to run by others and believes she will bring a fresh perspective to the board.

“It is something I have always wanted to do,” Conroy said. “I believe I can be a voice for the taxpayers.”

Fratzel, an engineer with United Construction in Newport, said he has been a voice for taxpayers during his six years on the board.

“The budget and taxes have always been my main focus,” Fratzel said. “In my six years, the town tax rate has gone up just 25 cents and I think that speaks volumes about my approach.”

He said the town also has been doing more infrastructure projects during his tenure and his “valuable skill set” in engineering and construction allow him to bring to the board significant expertise on those projects. 

The proposed power purchase agreement would place a large array on the west side of the Sugar River across from the town’s sewage treatment plant.

A second array would be located at the wellhead in Pollards Mill and possibly a third at the closed landfill on Breakneck Road, Fratzel said.

The town would not incur any of the costs for construction for these arrays and only pay for the power at a set price under the agreement over 25 years.

“It would start at a lower rate than we have now with a built in (price) escalator,” Fratzel said. “It provides for long term planning of energy costs, and you can’t do that with market rates.”

The proposed $10 million budget is just a few thousand dollars below this year’s spending plan. Salary increases were offset by reductions in other areas, including placing $93,000 for police detail in a separate warrant article, Newport Finance Director Paul Brown said.

If all requested appropriations are approved, the municipal tax rate would climb by 63 cents (of which 46 cents would be applied to the community center) per $1,000 of assessed value to $12.18.

Annual town taxes on a property assessed at $150,000 would increase by $95 to $1,827.

Other articles include: $107,000 appropriation from the water fund to upgrade the water treatment plant; two bond votes for infrastructure improvements on Knolls and 1st, 2nd, 3rd, and 4th streets; and a community revitalization tax relief incentive, referred to as 79:E under state law.

If the community revitalization incentive is approved, the town would be able to freeze the pre-renovation assessment of a qualifying structure so a developer could recover some of the investment costs before paying a larger property tax bill.

Patrick O’Grady can be reached at

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