Wednesday October 3, 2012

Town Meeting Representatives in Brattleboro have a big decision to make later this month concerning the proposed $14.1-million renovation plan for the police and fire stations. As the title suggests, these people have a duty to represent the will of the public so it is incumbent upon each and every citizen to make their wishes known so the vote will reflect the majority opinion.

Before anyone blurts out a sticker-shock reaction to what may seem like a hefty price tag, Brattleboro residents and taxpayers need to make sure they're fully informed on what the project involves and why it's needed.

"We have old facilities that have problems and they are becoming less functional all the time," said Town Manager Barbara Sondag. "For the last 20 years people have been asking us to solve these problems and we feel like we have a solution. Now we just need people to sign on."

The plan recommended by the Selectboard includes almost $5.6 million in upgrades to the police station in the municipal center, about $7 million for the central fire station on Elliot Street, and another $1.5 million for the West Brattleboro station.

Town officials say all three facilities are so old and rundown that health and safety issues have become a concern. Plus, the older buildings simply can't support some of the newer equipment used by our rescue personnel. The town's main fire station, for example, was built in 1947 and Chief Mike Bucossi said he has a memo from 1967 asking the then-town manager to start looking at a potential bond vote to upgrade the facility. That was 45 years ago.

Through the years the town has talked about a range of solutions, but each time the proposals have been turned down. We suspect the people considered only the price tag when making those earlier decisions and did not consider the needs of our rescue personnel who frequently put their lives on the line to protect us, our homes and our businesses.

For this latest proposal town officials are giving residents and taxpayers every opportunity to explore the details of the plan, to see for themselves what kind of shape these facilities are in and to talk to the people who have to use them every day.

A public information session will be held tonight at 6:30 p.m. at the Gibson Aiken Center, with a second information meeting set for Oct. 17, at 6:30 p.m. at the Gibson Aiken Center. Also, fire and police staff have scheduled two public tours of the existing facilities -- this Saturday, from 9 to 11 a.m., and next Wednesday, Oct. 10, from 6 to 8 p.m.

Town Meeting Representatives will vote on the bond at a special representative town meeting on Oct. 20. They also will vote on a proposed 1-percent local option tax which would raise revenue for the bond payments. Projected payments on the bond would raise the tax rate by about 10.5 cents and revenue from the proposed option tax could slice that by more than half, according to Finance Director John O'Connor.

Once again, we encourage everyone to get involved in the decision-making process and to make their wishes known.