TOWNSEND -- A proposal for a new fire station headquarters will be going before voters at May's Annual Town Meeting, selectmen decided at their meeting Jan. 14.
The $11.3 million project was bumped from November's Special Town Meeting warrant only an hour before the meeting, due to legal concerns about the project not being added to the town's capital plan.
The Capital Planning Committee had approved only a first stage of the project for land acquisition and site testing. Capital planning's approval is not needed to place the project on the warrant for an Annual Town Meeting.
The fire station building committee has suggested to selectmen the possibility of having a station built by an outside source through a request for proposals. Under this option, the town would lease the building with an option to buy in several years.
Selectman Colin McNabb initially expressed support for the RFP method, but later said that having the project on the Town Meeting warrant is his first choice.
"My position has always been that this needs to be debated on the Town Meeting floor," McNabb said.
Selectmen Chairman Sue Lisio said she is against having the headquarters leased from an outside source, as it could be construed as the town trying to work around regulations.
"It's a process that we've never undertaken before. It to me borders on something that is trying to get around the way that municipalities usually fund things, especially if it's a rent with an option to buy down the road," she said.
Leasing a building would require the town to pass a Proposition 2 1/2 override to increase the Fire Department's operating budget, which Lisio said she would not support. If the town were to build the station itself, it would be funded through a debt-exclusion.
"I think the way to fund a project for a building is to do a debt-exclusion. I think the town deserves to say whether or not they want a building, whether or not they're willing to support it. The ramifications of a 2 1/2 override for that amount of money on the town, I just can't support it," Lisio said.
Fire Chief Donald Klein said that the RFP process was proposed as a last resort to move the project forward, but that he personally is hesitant to suggest an override. His preliminary estimates are that the process would require an override of about $400,000 a year, which he said he doubted voters would support.
"If it fails, it sets us back a good year beyond where we are today. We're struggling now with what we've got and if we don't do something soon, you're going to have to start making investments into these old buildings just to keep them functional," Klein said of the five stations the town is currently using, most of which date back to the 1870s.
Klein said that the more the project is delayed, the more he expects costs to rise.
"The reality is we've got to start making an investment, and if we don't soon, it's going to cost them a lot more money than what a new building is going to cost," Klein said.
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