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Sharon explores funding options in Comcast planning

SHARON — To clarify the process and various funding options that will guide the town’s consideration of Comcast’s $1.6 million partnership proposal, the Board of Selectmen held an open conversation at a special meeting on Thursday, Sept. 1.

The next step was to be the Board of Finance meeting scheduled for Tuesday, Sept. 6, when the Comcast proposal would be discussed and a decision made about whether it should be sent on to a town meeting.

With Sharon Connect Task Force co-chairs Jill Drew and Meghan Flanagan included in the conversation, the selectmen focused on potential avenues for project funding, recognizing that residents would want that information explained at a town meeting.

First Selectman Brent Colley said, “People are concerned about how the project would be funded.”

In advance of the Board of Finance meeting, Drew and Flanagan are creating various funding models so that residents can understand available options.

The town’s Undesignated Fund showed a balance as of June 30, 2021, of about $2,490,000, and it is seen as a possible source for at least a portion of the cost that will be divided into two portions, $800,000 at the start of the project and the other half when the project is completed.

Town Treasurer Tina Pitcher noted that the town must keep 15% of both the town budget and the education budget as a reserve in the Undesignated Fund.

“The Board of Finance might opt to take some of the cost from the Undesignated Fund, some from ARPA [American Rescue Plan Act] and perhaps the balance to be borrowed,” Selectman Dale Jones suggested.

To qualify for grant funding, Pitcher said, “you need to show that the project is included within the state-mandated five-year plan for capital expenditures.” Colley added that the town has a few major projects coming up in the next two or three years, including new sidewalks, the Town Hall parking lot and the town garage building.

Drew said that she has been researching bank loans as possibilities, finding that local banks want to work with the town.

“The Comcast project is ready to go,” Selectman Casey Flanagan said and both Drew and Meghan Flanagan indicated that Comcast is eager to see the project begin.

Reviewing the timeline, Colley said that if the Board of Finance approves the project, they would likely authorize a town meeting. The selectmen would be asked to schedule a date for the town meeting.

In the interim before the town meeting occurs, the project contract would be drawn up and be ready for signature, if the voters approve the project.

One resident sought clarification of Comcast’s policy discussed at last month’s public hearing, seeking assurances that the project includes wiring to the home providing that the homeowner subscribes to the service before the lines are installed along the street. If the homeowner chooses not to subscribe initially, and then wants to subscribe after the project’s completion, the company’s standard hook-up charges would apply.

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