BRATTLEBORO — By a vote of 111 to 27, Town Meeting Representatives have approved the Select Board's plan to renovate Central Station on Elliot Street and to move the police department to Black Mountain Road.
After 14 different public informational meetings about the Select Board's proposal to renovate the Fire Department on Elliot Street and move the police department to the Brattleboro Reformer building, Town Meeting Reps finally cast their votes on Saturday morning after a discussion at the Brattleboro Area Midddle School.
"What I am most excited about now that this is passed is that number one, the need, it shows that we have a need and we have addressed that need and number two, it's going to be a better police department than down at the municipal center," said Brattleboro Police Chief Michael Fitzgerald.
For decades, Brattleboro has been trying to upgrade its police and fire facilities. A proposed $14.1 million project was approved in 2012, but the Select Board held off on the plan when voters rejected a proposed FY 2015 budget that had included payments on the police-fire bond. This past Saturday, 138 of 154 eligible Town Meeting Representatives showed up to engage in a discussion about their feelings for or against the Select Board's proposal and to cast their votes.
Before discussion began, Select Board Chairman David Gartenstein offered why he voted with the majority of the Select Board for the article after he said he was initially "skeptical" of moving the police station to Putney Road. He noted that there have been a number of issues raised over time about moving up to Putney Road and he classified them into three categories: access, the town being the commercial landlord, and finances. He emphasized and repeated that the space in the municipal center is not "optimally suited" for the police station.
Gartenstein explained that this is an opportunity for reuse of the municipal center, as the state of Vermont and Brattleboro Housing Authroity have stated that they are interested in the possibility of moving into the space at the municipal center. As for finances, to create the police station at Putney Road, the work would cost $4.1 million, but renovations for the municipal center would cost about $5.1 million. He added that if there were tenants at the municipal center, the rental income would bring in about $60,000 a year.
The final concern he addressed was access. Some individuals have said that having the police department in the downtown area is convenient. Gartenstein responded by having the police department pull last year's data on how people report matters to the police department, which is also called punching a case. In this data, Gartenstein said that from Jan. 1, 2015, through March 7, 2016, 12,253 cases were punched and of those, 559 were "walk-ins," where people entered the department to report a case. Fifty-nine of those 559 were criminal and none was an emergency.
"I'm not going to say that going up to Putney Road is the perfect alternative. I remain with some concerns about that move, but based on all of that information, I voted with the majority in the late fall to recommend the alternative of reallocated money from the initial bond that would have done the police work at the municipal center to do it at Putney Road," said Gartenstein. "And I did that because I think it was in the best interest of the town, even though it's not a perfect alternative."
Other members of the board explained why they supported or did not support the move to Putney Road. Vice Chairwoman of the Board, Kate O'Connor, explained why she was not for it.
"We have a building that we have to put money into anyway, whether we are there or aren't there, if we're going to have tenants in a building we still have to fix it," said O'Connor. She also added that she does not like that the Black Mountain Road building is not clearly visible from the road. She also does not like that it is not an easy location for people to walk to with the lack of a sidewalk and she believes the move would change the "culture" of the town.
The meeting began at 8:30 on Saturday morning and the polls opened up for Town Meeting Representatives at 10 a.m. However, even though the polls opened the discussion went on until 11:40 a.m.
The plan proposed by the Select Board includes renovations for Central Station, but most of the concerns voiced at Saturday's gathering were around the moving of the police department from 230 Main St. to 62 Black Mountain Rd. Many of the worry was surrounding the vitality of downtown Brattleboro and what it might look like if the police department is moved from the center to the outskirts. Other repeated concerns were tax increases.
According to Town Manager Peter Elwell, the amount of first year debt service for the Black Mountain Road Alternative would be $176,906, which would increase the property tax rate by 1.5 cents.
A large majority of the meeting attendees voiced their support for the move and said the police officers that serve the town were deserving of a new space. Despite some voters that contested that contention, the vote went through, 111 for the facility and 27 against.
"As far as we're concerned, I think the issue has been settled; it looks like the voting members have agreed to move the facility onto Black Mountain Road," said Brattleboro Town Clerk Annette Cappy. "There's still the option that a petition could be gathered that will take this vote from the Town Representatives to a townwide vote and if that happens then it would be an Australian ballot and would be within two or three weeks."
At the board's regular Tuesday meeting on March 15, the board members will vote on an adjustment to the fiscal year 2017 municipal budget.
In the meantime, Fitzgerald and Mark Carignan, the captain at the Brattleboro Police Department expressed their excitement with the project moving forward at this point.
Maddi Shaw can be reached at 802-254-2311 ext 275