BRATTLEBORO >> Select Board members are preparing for Saturday when their proposed budget, now containing funding for debt service related to police and fire facility projects, will be considered by Town Meeting Representatives.
"It seems to me there's very exciting future prospects now in terms of seeing the police department operating from a much better space than it's currently operating in," said Select Board Chairman David Gartenstein at Tuesday's meeting. "And there's also exciting opportunities going forward by reuse of the Municipal Center."
He called for more public outreach on the police-fire facility projects as they come nearer to fruition.
After Dora Bouboulis, Town Meeting member from District W3, announced a petition calling for a town-wide vote on the police department relocation to Black Mountain Road, the Select Board discussed the fiscal year 2017 budget which will be voted on at Representative Town Meeting scheduled for Saturday at 8:30 a.m. A special Representative Town Meeting on March 12 saw Town Meeting members support the move in a 111-27 vote.
If the town's budget is approved this coming Saturday, the amount of first-year debt service for moving police to the Reformer building on Black Mountain Road would be $176,906. The result: an increase in the property tax rate of 1.5 cents. The newspaper would remain as a tenant under the deal.
Residents are already facing a 1.82 cent increase in their property tax rate with the FY17 budget. Keeping the police department housed at the Municipal Center but moving forward with renovations there would have cost $199,138 in first-year debt service charges, according to town officials, meaning an increase of 1.69 cents on the property tax rate.
The total budget to be proposed now is $16,288,258 with the police relocation piece added to the town's debt service line item.
"This is borrowing to complete all of the work that is contemplated, not just the police facility," noted Town Manager Peter Elwell. "We would look to proceed with the borrowing process this spring and summer, the final design this spring and summer, and get as quickly as possibly into construction. Construction could begin fairly quickly in West Brattleboro (at the fire station) since those plans are essentially the same as two years ago."
Work at the town's two fire stations was already approved then and funds were borrowed. But the town's budget was shot down in a town-wide referendum in April 2014. Elwell said approximately $7.7 million in additional funding is required for the entire project, which is expected to cost $12.8 million altogether. After planning and design, approximately $4 million is left over from previous borrowing.
Members of the Police-Fire Facility Building Committee were invited to return to the committee as it was reconstituted Tuesday night. The committee had not met formally since January 2015, according to Elwell. He and his staff plan on bringing a recommendation to the board on whether to go to a bond bank or a commercial bank.
Board member John Allen suggested the possibility of introducing "a friendly amendment" on Saturday "to put back in the upper floor at Central Station." That aspect of the fire department facility upgrades was abandoned earlier in the process. He let the idea go later after hearing the rest of the board's thoughts.
As a builder, Allen said, "it just makes logical sense to put the upper floor on at this point."
"We will never ever be able to build that square footage for the price that we can do it right now at. It just makes sense to bring us further into the future," Allen said. "This project won't come up for another 20 or 30 years."
Added to the first year of debt service for the projects would have been $12,474, according to Elwell. It would have affected property tax rates by approximately half a penny, Allen said.
Board member David Schoales said other options exist for providing the fire department with training space. Other board members worried how the extra feature might affect the project as a whole.
"I really have grave concerns that if we were to initiate that kind of conversation at this point, it could backfire," said board member Donna Macomber.
"I'm not in favor of adding that $550,000 back to the total project cost. My perspective about the request that's being made now goes back to the core issue that I think motivated the budget referendum in April 2014," said Gartenstein. "One message was clear: taxes are too high. We responded to that issue by working diligently over a lengthy period of time in order to assess just what the departments' needs were and try to get this project down to the lowest cost possible."
Contact Chris Mays at firstname.lastname@example.org or 802-254-2311, ext. 273.