ST. GEORGE – A request to fund the preliminary design of a new fire station was rejected Monday, but could return to voters at the March town meeting.
By a 36-27 vote, taxpayers decided not to spend $35,000 for initial design costs for a building that could cost as much as $800,000.
However, a $6,500 request to upgrade the town office telephone system got a nod of approval.
No one at the meeting denied the need for a new fire station in the Tenants Harbor section of town. But, when residents discussed other expenses that could soon be facing taxpayers, the prevailing suggestion was to wait until the annual town meeting.
An estimate of cost for the construction of a new fire station, which would connect to the present town office building, was $500,000 to $600,000, according to a town newsletter. However, at Monday’s special town meeting, Town Manager John Falla noted that a feasibility study showed higher costs of $700,000 to $800,000.
“There is a need for a new fire station,” resident Carol Emery said, but she pointed to the fact that the town has a number of other proposed expenditures in next year’s budget.
Several residents echoed those concerns after discussions focused on requests in the proposed 2001 budget for an expansion of the transfer station and the addition of several new full-time positions at the town office. Voters indicated that all of those requests in one year were too much.
The proposed Tenants Harbor fire station would be a two-story building with a footprint of 3,600 square feet. The approximate figures included the demolition of the old fire station and an old town office building, which are located on the same property as the existing town office. Also included in the price tag was expansion of the parking lot. The plan would provide 35 parking spaces compared to the existing 11 spots.
In describing the plan to residents who were squeezed into every nook and cranny in the small town office meeting room, Falla noted that the new fire station would have a second story that could serve as a large meeting room.
One of the most vocal residents was George Finn, who raised numerous questions. Those queries included whether town officials had considered other options for a fire station, such as a garage that is located across Route 131 from the existing town office, and if selectmen had put the design work out to bid.
In response, Falla said that the town had looked at buying the garage for a library and had made an offer of $125,000 on the $250,000 property. The offer was rejected, he said, adding that the largest property available in the village was where the town office currently is located.
As far as bidding for the design work, Falla said that the town had hired Pine Tree Engineering of Bath for several projects and was very satisfied with its work. The total cost for design services would have been $76,500.
After citing other proposed expenses for 2001, Finn said, “It’s out of control.”
“Let’s get proposals,” Finn said, referring to other design bids and estimated construction costs. “Show it in dollars and cents. If you don’t plan, you’re going to have spikes in taxes.”
The same line of questioning popped up when voters were asked to spend $6,500 to upgrade the town office telephone system from three lines to six lines with a voice mail feature and the potential for expanding the system.
Again, Finn asked if the town sought bids.
Falla said the town got two bids.
William Iliffe wanted to know why the telephone request could not wait until town meeting, too.
Falla referred to a number of people who have complained that they could not “get through” to the town office.
“Let ’em keep trying,” Vivian Leppanen said.
After several residents talked about the need for the town office to have an expanded system to accommodate more voice lines, fax lines and an Internet line, voters overwhelming approved the expenditure.