Westhampton voters to decide fate of public safety complex on Saturday

  • Steve Holt, the assistant fire chief for the Westhampton Fire Department, and Select Board Chairman Phil Dowling stand outside the Public safety building in Westhampton. Gazette file photo

  • Steve Holt, the assistant fire chief in Westhampton, explains how little room there is in the current public safety building for the equipment and protective gear. The current building is 4,000 square feet, while the new one would be 10,000 square feet. Gazette file photo

Staff Writer
Published: 3/11/2021 2:41:32 PM

WESTHAMPTON — Voters will decide on Saturday whether the town should move forward with plans to construct a new $4.3 million public safety complex for police and fire personnel.

At a special Town Meeting last Saturday, voters decided 221-69 to advance the proposed safety complex to a ballot vote, which will be held Saturday at Town Hall from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Voters will be asked to approve a Proposition 2½ debt exclusion override to finance the new facility.

Saturday’s vote will be the second time that residents are tasked with approving or rejecting the proposed facility. In 2018, voters at a Town Meeting narrowly advanced the proposal to a ballot question. But at the polls, voters turned down the tax raise required to move forward with the project by a 254-211 margin.

The current public safety complex, located at 48 Stage Road, houses police and fire offices and vehicles. According to Assistant Fire Chief Steve Holt and Select Board Chairman Phil Dowling, the current facility does not meet health and safety standards, numerous safety regulations, building code, or Americans with Disabilities Act standards, and also does not provide adequate space for personnel and equipment.

The project is not expected to significantly affect taxes, according to Finance Committee Chairwoman Mary Cleary, due to the city paying off prior capital debts and planning the project into the town’s budget for several years.

The town spent $435,000 in fiscal 2021 on a handful of capital projects, most of which have been paid off, including a renovation and addition to Hampshire Regional High School and new roofs at the elementary school and town hall, among other projects.

Town officials say if the override for the public complex passes on Saturday, the town would end up paying $370,000 in capital expenses in fiscal 2022 — $296,000 for the public safety complex, $60,000 for a police cruiser and $14,000 for a highway truck.

Additionally, funds paid to the town from Montague Road Solar Project will cover almost 30% of the project’s cost, according to the town’s Public Safety Building Committee.

Cleary did not have a specific figure for the 2022 tax rate, as she said that budget is not yet complete, but added, “I don’t see any large spikes.”

The tax rate increased from $20.32 per thousand to $20.64 per thousand between fiscal years 2020 and 2021.

The main portion of the 7,300-square-foot building was built in 1948 as a highway garage, with additions added over the years. Despite these additions, personnel have needed to make adjustments such as placing lockers in the same room as engines and spending $10,000 on a customized engine small enough to fit in the current facility, according to Holt. The proposed structure sits at more than 10,000 square feet.

But some residents feel that the project is too expensive, particularly amid the financial hardships that COVID-19 has imposed on many in town.

If approved, South Windsor, Connecticut general contractor W.J. Mountford is slated to demolish the current building and install the new facility, likely by December.

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


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