Williamstown Town Manager Bob Menicocci, right, follows the discussion at Monday's Select Board meeting.
WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — Hopefully, residents are enjoying the new bicycle-pedestrian trail.
They may have to pay for it down the road.
Town Manager Bob Menicocci Monday told the Select Board that the Massachusetts Department of Transportation is passing along $1.3 million in overruns for the project, which created a recreational path from near the intersection of Syndicate Road and North Street (Route 7) east to the Spruces Park on Main Street (Route 2).
The town has the resources to pay the tab from its Chapter 90 account without new local tax revenue, Menicocci told the board. But paying for the overage would put a dent in the town's long-rage capital plans for that Chapter 90 money.
Menicocci explained that the town's contract with MassDOT, which gives ownership of the path to the town upon its final close out (likely in the spring), also makes the town responsible for any costs over 110 percent of the contract price.
The price of the 2.4-mile path when it went to bid was about $5.3 million, Menicocci told the board. Per the contract with the town, the state agency is responsible for that $5.3 million plus a 10 percent contingency.
Everything else is the town's responsibility.
"I wanted to let you know right away," Menicocci said at Monday's meeting. "What I will say is there is not a great level of concern. We have the Chapter 90 funds available, more than enough to cover these costs.
"What are the various funding options? What makes the most sense? And what will the impact be on the capital projects we have lined up? There are a lot of moving pieces to this and a lot of conversation."
Some of that conversation will be between the town and state officials.
"We signed a contract for the project, and we were signing off on change orders all along," Menicocci said. "Largely, we're obligated to [the $1.3 million].
"It's thinking through solutions internally and whether there's an external course of action to pursue with local legislators."
Menicocci is the third town manager responsible for the project.
The contract with MassDOT was signed in the spring of 2020 by then-manager Jason Hoch. Much of the work was completed while interim Town Manager Charlie Blanchard was the nominal occupant of town hall's corner office from May 2021 through June 30 of this year.
Menicocci told the Select Board Monday there are various reasons for the nearly 20 percent overage in the project, including some increased costs attributable to the pandemic that was just starting when the initial contract was signed.
Some of the change orders were related to actual conditions on the ground and in the ground that were discovered during construction.
"It's hard for me to know the scoping and engineering done beforehand," Menicocci said. "The reality of it is there's a number of items that came to us that we'll be responsible for. In the process of reaching out to the contract managers on the DOT side, I honestly feel the costs will be fairly legitimate."
Menicocci said that up to $300,000 of the overrun is due to inflation.
"There is some understandable inflation that occurred between April 2020 and now that's been, as an employer and a guy who buys a lot of stuff to resell, some of the changes are eye-popping," Select Board Chair Hugh Daley said.
"That said, this is something I feel we have to take a pretty aggressive stance on. … I feel Bob is already there."
Both Daley and Menicocci assured the other Select Board members present at Monday's meeting that the town has adequate funds in its Chapter 90 account to pay for its unexpected share of the recreational path.
Chapter 90 is a commonwealth program that allocates funds to municipalities to build and repair local roads. The program relies on revenues from the state's gasoline tax.
In practice, town meeting each spring votes to authorize the town to borrow funds to pay for those road projects in anticipation of reimbursement from Chapter 90.
After Monday's meeting, Menicocci said that the hit to Chapter 90 will not impact any of the capital projects approved at last May's annual town meeting. He also confirmed that there will be no such "overage" concerns with the other big state project in town, the bridge replacement on Main Street, because that is a state-owned bridge.
Even though the Chapter 90 funds may cover the cost of the recreation trail, the impact of the surprise bill is not insignificant.
"We have enough Chapter 90 funds to finish this," Daley said. "It won't impact our operating budget. But let's say two years ago we planned to do XYZ work. We're going to feel this pinch at some point.
"I'm of the opinion we should push as hard as we can to recover as much as we can in a reasonable fashion. While I understand some cost escalation due to the environment in which it was built, I feel we're a little bit on the excessive side. Bob's on it."
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