Public safety complex rejected in Westhampton

  • Matthew and Happy Montague and their children Aurelia, 6, and Alex, 8, make their way out of Westhampton Town Hall on Saturday, Oct. 27, 2018, after voting on a measure asking residents to decide whether or not to approve a Proposition 2 ½ debt-exclusion override to pay for the construction of a new $4.4 million public safety complex. —STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Julie Holt casts her vote at a ballot box operated by Bob Miller at Westhampton Town Hall on Saturday in a special election on a Proposition 2½ debt-exclusion override to pay for the construction of a new $4.4 million public safety complex. Behind Holt are Kate Moloney and Steve Gagne and their children Andrew, 10, and Rosie, 5. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Members of the Westhampton fire department stand ready to give residents a tour of the current fire station on Stage Road on Saturday morning, Oct. 27, 2018. From left are firefighters Steve Holt, Mike Holt and John Zimmerman. —STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Bob Miller, left, operating a ballot box at the Westhampton Town Hall, chats with Mary Cleary and her daughter, Anna, 3, after Cleary cast her ballot in a special election on Saturday, Oct. 27, 2018. The single question on the ballot asked residents to decide whether or not to approve a Proposition 2 ½ debt-exclusion override to pay for the construction of a new $4.4 million public safety complex. —STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Westhampton firefighters Steve Holt, Mike Holt and John Zimmerman stand ready to give residents a tour of the current fire station on Stage Road on Saturday morning. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

Staff Writer
Published: 10/27/2018 5:49:20 PM

WESTHAMPTON — Voters in Westhampton struck down a proposed tax raise on Saturday that would have funded the construction of a new $4.4 million public safety complex.

Unofficial results for the lone question on the ballot, a Proposition 2½ debt exclusion override, were 254 against to 211 in favor, according to Town Clerk Susan Bronstein. The proposition needed a majority to pass.

The ballot question followed the Sept. 11 special Town Meeting where voters, by a two-thirds majority, gave the go-ahead for the town to bond for the funds required to construct a new, 10,600-square-feet public safety complex at 48 Stage Road. The proposed increase in the tax rate would have paid back those loans over the course of 20 to 25 years.

“I’m disappointed,” said Select Board Chairman Philip Dowling. “It means having to spend money on an existing building that, in my view, is a waste. But, it has to be done, so we will meet with the police and fire chiefs to go over what the immediate issues are and formulate a plan.”

Dowling said that because there are no funds currently in the town’s budget designated for repairs to the fire and police station, it would require another special Town Meeting to appropriate funds from the town’s recently certified free cash account.

He said there is at least $350,000 in the account, some of which could go toward repairs and addressing health and safety concerns with the current facility.

Dowling added that with the rising costs of steel, construction, labor, and interest rates, “the town will ultimately pay more for what we need.”

Fire Chief Christopher Norris could not be reached for comment Saturday.

Out of 19 interviews conducted by the Gazette outside Town Hall on Saturday morning, 15 Westhampton residents said they voted in favor of the override, while four said they voted against it. Many others declined to comment on their vote.

Before the results were available, Sue O’Rourke said building a new public safety complex is never going to get cheaper and, were the vote to fail, the town would have to pay even more to bring the current police and fire station up to the required safety and Americans with Disabilities Act codes.

“The facility is dreadful at the moment,” O’Rourke said. “It is totally disrespectful to expect for the people that risk their lives to protect us to work there.”

Another voter in favor of the tax override, Andrew Klyman, said he recently visited the police and fire station and found that the current size is not sufficient to ensure the safety of town residents, or the police and firefighters currently using the facility.

Joe Prickett said he is not against the fire and police departments building a new facility, but since the proposed facility would be too large in his opinion, he voted no on the ballot question.

“We are a small town; we don’t need a big-city public safety complex,” Prickett said.

Jan Rolin and Wes Bowser both voted in favor of the tax override.

“The building is extremely outdated,” Rolin said. “I believe that’s what my tax dollars should go to is keeping us safe.”

Bowser said a new public safety complex would address safety concerns for the town with the added benefit of increasing property values in Westhampton.

Also, due to the current building’s size, fire engines and trucks have to be custom built in order to fit in the station’s bays, Bowser said.

In a previous interview with the Gazette, Norris said the fire department had to spend an extra $20,000 to shorten the wheelbase of a 2017 tanker so that it could be stored in the bay.

A feasibility study completed in January by Caolo & Bieniek Associates of Chicopee found that the current 7,300-square-foot building lacked space to safely perform operations. It also suffers from a lack of appropriately sized bays for fire apparatus, a lack of a fire protection system, and non-compliance with Massachusetts Handicap Accessibility or ADA regulations, among other issues.

Assistant Fire Chief Stephen Holt, a member of the Public Safety Complex Review Committee, said he was upset that the tax override didn’t pass and that the next steps would be meeting with town officials to come up with solutions for the issues facing the police and fire station.

“We could spend half a million on the building but it still would not meet the needs of the departments, and we have to decide what the town can do to meet those needs,” Holt said.

As a member of the review committee, Holt said, “We felt this was the best plan for the town at this time with our financial situation with other loans being paid off. It’s a missed opportunity, but that doesn’t mean it won’t happen with a new plan.”

Luis Fieldman can be reached at lfieldman@gazettenet.com




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