Brattleboro Selectboard inches police-fire facilities project forward
BRATTLEBORO -- Now that the town has a Fiscal Year 2015 budget, the Selectboard is ready to cast its attention toward the stalled renovation project at the police and fire facilities.
And while the board finally addressed the project at Tuesday night's meeting after putting it off during the budget talks, the future of the project remains very much in limbo.
"In the afterglow of yesterday's special Representative Town Meeting, it seemed like an opportune time to at least begin the discussion about what is going to happen with the police fire facilities renovation project," Selectboard Chairman David Gartenstein said Tuesday.
In October 2012 Town Meeting Representatives approved a $14.1 million project for the police station in the municipal station and for the two fire stations in town.
The town has already taken out a $5 million bond for the project, but the proposed FY 2015 budget, which included projected payments on an additional $9 million bond, was rejected at a special referendum.
That vote was seen as a statement on the project and the board took the bond payments out of the budget, which was finally approved this week at a special representative town meeting.
Now the board is trying to chart a course to move the project forward once again.
And during a 45 minute, and sometimes emotional, discussion Tuesday the board began that process.
The Selectboard wants the Police Fire Facilities Building Committee to reconvene and come up with a range of options for the town in addressing the need to renovate the police station and two fire stations in town.
The board is also going to gather information to determine if the West Brattleboro fire station should remain open.
Brattleboro Fire Chief Mike Buccossi said the original plan still made the most sense, though the option of moving the police station to Elliot Street could be viable.
But Buccossi made it clear that he was opposed to closing the West Brattleboro station.
"It seems to me that Station Two is being used as a pawn to get this project to move forward, and I don't think that's right," Buccossi said. "Station Two plays a very important role in the public safety of this town, and to now all of a sudden throw it into the mix, and say we should be closing it, or not doing it, I don't think that's right."
Selectboard member John Allen, who is also an ad hoc member of the Police Fire Facilities Building Committee said he was frustrated with the town and the board's reluctance to address the needs at the three buildings.
He said he wanted to move forward right away on the central station project and use the $4 million remaining from the bond that town has already taken out to begin work on Elliot Street.
"I think this project has been vetted. It's been discussed, it's been discussed and it's been discussed," Allen said. "As a builder it just infuriates me to go through this all over again and just start from scratch. I want to see something completed. I just want to get something done."
Allen also said he is opposed to putting the police department on Elliot Street.
He said Brattleboro has been discussing its emergency services facilities for more than two decades, and he said the project has already been approved by town meeting representatives.
"We have too much time and energy put into this. We can talk about this thing for the next 20 or 30 years," he said. "We can keep talking this over and over. And that's what Brattleboro does, and it just drives me crazy. We can't seem to move forward. I want to move forward."
Gartenstein said any decision will have to go before town meeting reps for another vote.
"The referendum vote, whether we like it or not, was a clear indication, albeit very late in the process, of dissatisfaction by a significant part of the electorate with the balancing of revenue and expenses that we were contemplating," said Gartenstein. "We need to work toward getting direction from town meeting, and giving the voters an opportunity, as a whole, to vote the project, as it's finally contemplated up or down."
Gartenstein said he wanted to gather data and take a hard look at the need to keep the station in West Brattleboro.
He said the board should rely on the Police Fire Facilities Building Committee to come up with the information, but that ultimately the board has to decide what project should be presented to town meeting reps and the voters.
"I don't think we can reasonably do this without getting another authorization from Representative Town Meeting, and giving the voters an opportunity to weigh in, if they can get the signatures to do so."
Selectboard member David Schoales said he wanted to explore the most recently suggested option to house both the police and fire departments on Elliot Street on the site of the central fire station.
He also said he wanted to hold information meetings in West Brattleboro to try to win strong support for renovating the station on Western Avenue.
Selectboard member Donna Macomber said the April 17 referendum on the FY 2015 budget, which rejected the previous budget, was a clear message from the voters to slow the project down and take a new look at the town's needs for the improved facilities.
And with the budget vote now over, she said she wanted to start the process back up.
"I have said all along that it's important that we move forward and that we not lose momentum," Macomber said. "I think we owe that to the town."
Macomber also said that she wanted to gather information and try to include as many people as possible as the board tries to come up with a plan to present to Representative Town Meeting.
"We need to move forward with this," she said. "We made it through the budget hurdle and now it's really time to find the right course of action on this project."
Robin Sweetapple, who is Chairwoman of the Police Fire Facilities Building Committee said the committee has worked very hard to get to where they are today, and she was confused why the board was asking for more information at this point.
"It's difficult to understand, from where we're coming from, that something that's been voted through this many times, will be going up for a vote again," Sweetapple said. "It's a difficult thing to comprehend when you've been working so hard."
Allen said he did not want to take the project back to town meeting.
He said the referendum vote only represented a small number of Brattleboro residents, and he wanted to move ahead.
"I have no idea what we're asking of them right now, I really don't," said Allen. "To me we're starting from square one and I don't want to go there."
Macomber said as hard as it will be to ask more of the Police Fire Facilities Building Committee to do more work, the board is going to have to do more to educate the public and make sure they had the information they need to make a decision.
"There will be negative consequences to trying to bypass that process," she said. "And I am sorry about it."
And Selectboard member Kate O'Connor said a vote is crucial to get everyone on board.
"I want the project to go through. I think it's needed," she said. "But this is political reality that we have a $5 million bond and we don't have a $9 million bond. And in order to get that $9 million we'll have to go back to the voters. If we push this through it's not going to get anywhere."
Howard Weiss-Tisman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 802-254-2311, ext. 279.
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