It’s going to be cash.

Instead of bonding an estimated $950,000 in renovation costs over 15 years, town councilors voted Monday to fund conversion of Bowdoin College’s McLellan Building into the new town offices using cash from unassigned general funds.

Two votes — one to dismiss the bonds, a second to approve cash — came after a 20-minute public hearing during which only two people spoke, including District 6 Councilor-elect Jane Millett, followed by almost an hour of debate.

District 7 Councilor Sarah Brayman’s motion to approve bonds for the project failed 6-3; she, District 4 Councilor John Perreault and at-large Councilor Benet Pols voted in favor. A subsequent motion passed by an identical count to use available funds.

Construction is to begin Dec. 16, with a goal of occupying the building on Union Street by early April 2014.

Debate turned tense as Brayman, Pols and Perreault implored their peers not to discard one option for the other, but to preserve “flexibility” for the town.

The trio acknowledged using current funds will avoid adding $95,000 — the equivalent of a 0.3-percent tax increase — to the town’s annual debt service, as well as nullifying an estimated $247,000 in interest costs over the life of the bonds.

But having a $2 million cushion in the municipal budget to defray tax rate increases is better than having $1 million, Pols said. It also would preserve the town’s policy of maintaining a minimum 16.67 percent of its budget in unassigned funds. At the end of the last fiscal year, Brunswick’s unassigned funds balance exceeded the minimum by about $1 million.

Perreault insisted the town could authorize bonds as a funding backstop then refuse to issue them if the project could be managed with cash.

But he’s concerned that there is too much time left in the fiscal year during which emergency expenses to arise to be dipping into excess funds now.

“We have got to adopt a bond issue in case we need it,” he said. “If we don’t need it, we’ll spend the cash. This is just common sense.”

Town Manager Gary Brown said he was confident the town’s budget can withstand the expense without sacrificing the ability to shift money during the next budget cycle.

“As of June 30, the town’s unassigned funds balance was more than $10 million, the highest it’s ever been in this town,” Brown said. “If we use the money out of the funds balance, it’ll put us back where wer’ve been in past years.

Once the town vacates the current offices at 28 Federal St., an already-signed purchase and-sale agreement between Brunswick Development Corp. and Wiscassetbased Coastal Enterprises Inc. can be executed. CEI intends to buy 28 and 30 Federal Sts., raze them and build its new state headquarters in the block south of Bank Street.

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