Our Opinion: City of indecision, Part II
Nearly $1 million and counting and still no solution in sight.
That's how much it has cost Brattleboro for its stalled project to replace the town's fire and police stations.
At Tuesday night's Selectboard meeting, board members learned that the option of building a combined police and fire facility at the Elliot Street site of Brattleboro's Central Fire Station is unlikely, a project that was expected to save the town a few million dollars.
"We've looked at this option six ways to Sunday and we have not come up with any real stand-out solutions," said interim Town Manager Patrick Moreland. "It's just not as easy as it looks. There is no clear course of action for combining both facilities on Elliot Street."
Two of the biggest issues, he said, were parking and traffic flow.
"The site is very tight," said Fire Chief Michael Bucossi, in his typically understated way.
The next step is to recall the Police-Fire Facility Building Committee and ask it to present a recommendation for moving forward. Whatever suggestion the committee makes will have to go back before Town Meeting Representatives for their approval.
Bucossi said it's frustrating that the town has made no movement forward on addressing the health and work safety issues at the police and fire stations that have been driving the project from the start.
"I'm glad the project still has forward momentum, and has not been shelved, but it feels like we are right back at the beginning, doing a feasibility study. It feels like we are a long way off from breaking ground."
In June, Town Meeting Representatives approved a nearly $16 million town budget, which was about $600,000 less than the budget they approved during their regular annual meeting in March. The reps were called back for a special meeting after a petition was circulated calling for a townwide vote on the budget, a vote (by 17 percent of Brattleboro's registered voters) that rejected the budget and forced the Selectboard to find cuts. While many town residents expressed concern over rising taxes, many of them voted in opposition to the proposed budget because they feared the $14.5 million police-fire project would prove to be the proverbial straw on the camel's back.
Let's not forget that at the 2014 Representative Town Meeting, reps had an opportunity to offset rising taxes by instituting a 1 percent local option sales tax on some retail goods. It was estimated that the revenues from that 1 percent tax would cover the bonding costs for the police-fire project. But swayed by the business community, reps overwhelmingly voted down the tax that was approved by voters in a non-binding referendum.
While there are some very serious concerns that an additional 1 percent sales tax would force even more business across the river to sales-tax-free New Hampshire, we remind everyone of the extraordinary work the town's fire department has done over the years in limiting the amount of destruction that could have been caused by some very big fires. If not for the heroic work of the fire department and its Mutual Aid partners downtown might have been not much more than a smoldering pile of debris on more than one occasion.
And as anyone who has visited the Municipal Building can tell you, the police station is really nothing more than a hodgepodge of offices split in two by the building's main corridor and its holding cells look like they might have been used during the Inquisition. Meanwhile, the police department is fighting the very real scourge of heroin and the crime that comes with it.
While we know that each and every firefighter and police officer is dedicated to Brattleboro, we wonder how long they will continue to accept the conditions they are forced to work in. It's not like this is an issue that just popped up yesterday. A faded, yellow memo Bucossi keeps in his desk is a warning that the fire station won't be adequate much longer. It was written by former Fire Chief T. Howard Mattison in the 1960s.
While one might argue that the firefighters and the police officers have gotten along passably well with the facilities they now have, one might also argue who knows how much better things would have been if they had new facilities 20 or 30 years ago. And that begs the question: How much longer will they have to wait?
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