Town Meeting to vote on $4.3M public safety complex in Westhampton

  • The existing Westhampton public safety complex. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 2/22/2021 7:45:58 PM
Modified: 2/22/2021 7:45:41 PM

WESTHAMPTON — Residents will decide for the second time whether the town should hold a special election to approve or reject a new, $4.3 million public safety complex at a special Town Meeting on Saturday.

The article covers paying for the construction of a new public safety complex, its equipment and furnishings, and the expenses associated with demolishing the current complex located at 38 Stage Road. The new complex would be built at this same site.

The meeting will be held “drive-up” style at 1 p.m. Saturday in the parking lot of Hampshire Regional High School, located at 19 Stage Road. The public safety complex is the only article on the meeting’s warrant.

The proposed complex is a familiar issue in town. In 2018, residents narrowly passed an article at a special Town Meeting sending the proposed public safety complex to a ballot vote. The ballot question, which would have approved the tax raise needed to fund the facility, failed by a 254-211 vote.

Now, those in favor of the complex hope that detailed plans and a slightly lower price tag — down from $4.4 million in 2018 — will sway members of the public to support the new complex this time around.

The current building does not meet various safety, ADA or building standards, Assistant Fire Chief Steve Holt told the Gazette earlier this month, nor does it provide adequate space for police and fire personnel, gear and vehicles. The Fire Department previously needed to spend $10,000 on a customized engine, according to Holt, as a standard engine would not fit in the current fire station. In addition, firefighters do not have access to showers for decontamination, among other issues.

The main portion of the current, 7,300-square-feet building was constructed in 1948, while the proposed new complex would be more than 10,000 square feet.

Opponents of the new complex have said that the proposal is unnecessary or too expensive. Others have also expressed concerns with the timing of the renewed push for the proposed public safety complex, noting that many are suffering from financial hardships in the pandemic, and that many will not want to attend the outdoor special Town Meeting due to cold weather and health concerns.

The meeting will not be broadcast virtually due to logistical difficulties, said Town Clerk Cheryl Provost. Those who do not plan to attend the meeting can also submit questions via a form on the town’s website, she said, but residents can only vote in-person.

While the special Town Meeting requires in-person attendance, the final vote on whether the town will move forward with the proposal will allow those who do not attend the meeting to vote absentee.

“Since it’s a two-part approval, I understand that some people aren’t going to be able to attend the meeting,” Provost said. “But even if it passes the Town Meeting, it needs to pass the ballot question, so they have the opportunity to vote by absentee ballot.”

In the event of inclement weather, Select Board Chairman Phil Dowling said that the meeting will be postponed to March 6 at 1 p.m.

Provost said she is not aware of plans to record the meeting, and said the town does not generally record meetings.

If the article passes, residents will be tasked with accepting or rejecting the proposed public safety complex at a special election on March 13. No other ballot questions are planned for that meeting.

Jacquelyn Voghel can be reached at jvoghel@gazettenet.com.


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