Letter: Do not move the police station

Do not move the police station

Editor of the Reformer:

In the Jan. 21 issue, the Reformer reported that the Selectboard of Brattleboro had voted on Jan. 19 to endorse a plan to relocate the police station. This plan would move the station from the Municipal Center to Black Mountain Road with the purchase of the Reformer building. This is a bad idea for a number of reasons.

First, one member of the Selectboard stated that the decision, ultimately, was cheaper to move than stay. Initially, maybe, but this point of view totally ignores the enormous fit-up costs that would be necessary to again rent the vacated Municipal Center and also does not take into account ongoing maintenance of two facilities. Those costs should be included in the financial analysis to give the voters a more accurate picture.

Second, moving ahead with this decision would take a valued property off the tax roles permanently. It has been stated that rental revenue from both facilities would offset that tax revenue, but, would it? There are already multiple commercial properties vacant in the town. What if rents do not materialize as hoped? The grand list growth has repeatedly been reduced over the years with exempt and partially exempt properties and the recent loss of commercial values. All this has meant an increase in taxes to the residential owners. The town should not be contributing to the shrinkage of its own grand list.

Third, the town of Brattleboro should be in the business of governing the town and not in the business of renting real estate. This move would make more space available at both the Municipal Center and the Reformer property and there is a significant question as to whether owning and renting more property should be the role of government. Would this further skew the commercial market with the town offering sub-market rates because it does not have to pay taxes on the property? From a public policy standpoint, the town should not further extend its ownership of real estate.

Fourth, the federal Ggovernment and the state of Vermont have financially supported investments in downtown properties in the interest of preserving and building upon downtown business and residential districts. It is believed that a healthy and vibrant downtown district is good economically, socially and essential to the success of any community. Examples of this policy are the Main Street Program, Historic Tax Credits, tax credits for capital improvement projects and federal and state grants. It would be contrary to this policy to move the police out of the Municipal Center leaving an unknown future for a historic building. The town should learn from the Brooks House and other downtown property owners who have dramatically improved their properties.

Finally, one wonders if the most vulnerable and indigent downtown residents could be served by a remote location. It is arguable that they could be served but they certainly could not walk to the station to report issues.

I urge the Selectboard and all Town Meeting Representatives to think seriously about the implications of the proposed move of the police department. Think about the total undisclosed costs, the negative impact upon the grand list, what role the government should play, and the potential loss of a historic building in the downtown district.

Hugh W. Barber, Brattleboro, Feb. 5


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