Braintree officials approved new spending as part of a $11.75 million capital plan on Tuesday night, framing the money for improvements such as a new fire ladder truck, school renovations and DPW vehicles as an important investment in the town's physical appearance and infrastructure that also fits into its long-term financial outlook.
One relatively small portion of the package, for example, would bring beautification to each neighborhood. Mayor Joseph Sullivan outlined a $300,000, two-year program that will result in upgrades to basketball and tennis courts, fencing and other improvements at 12 Braintree parks.
"Every neighborhood park will see greater shine," Sullivan said. "I'm pleased with the work we've done, knowing that we have more work to do."
The unanimously approved $3.5 million in new bonded debt from the general fund during their meeting at . Another $1.7 million was approved by the council last year for road repairs. Additional funding for water and sewer, golf and some DPW and police projects will come from alternative sources, such as Braintree's stabilization fund, unemployment account and retained earnings from its enterprise operations.
$355,000 for more upgrades at Braintree's police headquarters, to $250,000 for new town financial software and . Department of Public Works vehicles and other DPW costs account for about half of the new spending.
"We are putting forward important statements about how we feel about our community," Sullivan said, "and how our community should be presented physically to the outside world."
Sullivan said the improvements also line up with the work members of Braintree's new government have done over the past several years, verifying "the fact that we have focused on our fiscal management in an organized, and I think a tight manner."
Braintree's debt position is significantly better than other Massachusetts towns with like-sized budgets, according to a report put together by Ways & Means Chair Paul "Dan" Clifford and the council's outside auditor Eric Kinsherf.
While the average debt of four similar municipalities – Beverly, Chelmsford, Falmouth and Fitchburg – is $80 million, Braintree had $39.8 million in combined general fund and water and sewer debt at the end of fiscal year 2011. Braintree's total does not include the 's $100 million debt, as none of the other towns have comparable entities.
Under the fiscal year 2012 capital spending plan, the net addition of debt will be $3.45 million because approximately $8.3 million in loans are ending this year, the report states. The town's legal debt limit is $290 million.
The numbers, Clifford said, show that Braintree is in a "good financial position," a sentiment echoed by the upgrade of the town's credit rating by Moody's from Aa3 to Aa2 two years ago. Standard & Poor's rates Braintree AA, though it did not grade the town during the previous fiscal year.
From the tail-end of the old form of government in 2007 to last summer, Braintree has gradually increased the money it has in reserves compared to its budget from 2.76 percent to 10.71 percent, going from total general fund savings of $2.4 million to $10.7 million. And that does not reflect additional reserves of more than $3.5 million in water and sewer and golf enterprise accounts.
That trend, along with the fact that with its new government Braintree stopped dipping repeatedly into its reserves for operating expenses, led to the boosted credit rating, Chief of Staff and Operations Peter Morin said, helping save the town money on interest.
In other business, Council President Charles Kokoros announced that he has reversed his decision about from five and four to three members each on the Ways & Means and Ordinance & Rules committees.
Ordinance & Rules members last week, but on Tuesday Kokoros said that the passion shown by members who protested the decision made him rethink it.
"After much thought, I believe to be a good leader and sit in the seat as president, you have to listen to each member," Kokoros said.
He appointed Sean Powers and John Mullaney to Ways & Means, joining Clifford (chair), Henry Joyce and Tom Bowes. Leland Dingee joins Ronald DeNapoli (chair), Powers and Clifford on Ordinance & Rules.
The council also approved an official announcement for the March 6 presidential primary submitted by Joe Powers. Voting is from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. in .
Correction: The debt analysis was not prepared by the financial department, but rather by Ways & Means Chair Paul "Dan" Clifford and the council's outside auditor Eric Kinsherf.