Friday April 26, 2013

BRATTLEBORO -- Members of the Police-Fire Facility Building Committee have begun their work on the town's planned $14.1 million renovation to the fire and police stations.

The nine-member committee is going to oversee the project and report to the Selectboard and at a meeting Thursday they began to talk about how and when the town should borrow the money.

Finance Director John O'Connor told the board that the town does not need to borrow all of the money at once. The interest rate could go up or down over the next few years, which O'Connor said would have an impact on taxpayers.

The board debated the issue for almost 45 minutes and will try to make a decision before the end of June.

Town Meeting Representatives approved the $14.1 million bond for police and fire stations upgrades.

The committee will be working on design and construction plans for the rest of this year, with construction slated to start in the spring of 2014.

O'Connor said it might make sense to borrow some of the money in the first year, and then the rest the following year.

Town Manager Barbara Sondag said it might be better to ease the tax impact over a few years.

"If you do it all at once the tax rate will jump," she said. "It might be better to have it creep up over a few years."

Project Manager Steve Horton said in many ways the next few months will be the busiest for the committee. Architect proposals are due May 14, and after that the board will interview candidates and then begin going over plans. Decisions about design and budget will have to be made, and Horton warned the group that in his years of experience he has hardly ever seen the first plans come in at or below budget.

"This is going to be an active time," he said. "We are going to start talking about tangible dollars and cents and design issues. I am looking forward to moving forward on this and getting started."

Horton also said that in his first read through of the preliminary plans he found some potential expenses that were not included. There is no money in the budget to replace the police department dispatch system, which is outdated, when the new police station is built. And in the fire station, Horton said, there was not money included for a commercial extractor for drying equipment.

"All of these things begin to have a domino effect," Horton said. "It is still early in the process and I want to uncover as much of this as I can so there are no surprises later."

The committee also spent time talking about the $14.1 million price tag.

Committee member Eli Gould wanted to know how cost reductions could be considered and Selectboard member John Allen said he has heard comments from taxpayers who want to bring the cost down.

"Is there anything that can be pulled out?" Allen asked. "Anything you pull out could go a long way in improving community relations."

Brattleboro Fire Chief Mike Bucossi said the project started at about $18 million and the police and fire departments have already taken as much as out as they could.

Sondag said the town's Arts Committee, Energy Committee and Representative Town Meeting Finance Committee will all want to stay up to date with decision made by the Police-Fire Facility Building Committee.

She said the Police-Fire Facility Building Committee should come up with liaisons and methods for including other committees with the long process of overseeing the project.

Some members of the committee toured the Elliot Street fire station before the meeting.

Committee member Steve Phillips said the tour proved to him that the town did need to move ahead with the project.

"We saw a lot of deficiencies I had never seen before," he said. "There is no doubt in my mind that something serious needs to be done."

Howard Weiss-Tisman can be reached at 802-254-2311, ext. 279, or hwtisman@reformer.com. Follow Howard on Twitter @HowardReformer.