Voting under way on proposed Williamstown public safety buildingFebruary 25,2013
By David Delcore
WILLIAMSTOWN — Town officials and emergency personnel made their last ditch pitch for a new public safety building over the weekend and now it is up to voters here to decide whether they want to pay for the $2.5 million complex.
Voting on the project is already underway and the results will be available after the polls close one week from today at 7 p.m.
More than two dozen people attended Saturday morning’s final public hearing on the project and while most were already sold on the proposal those who were still looking to make up their minds were told the need is real, the price is right, and the time will probably never be better.
Hoping to take advantage of historically low interest rates and what he characterized as an extremely favorable bid price, Select Board Chairman Larry Hebert sought to undercut an argument that he claimed he’s been hearing on the street.
“This is not a Taj Mahal,” Hebert said of a building officials say would bring the town’s fire and ambulance departments under one energy-efficient roof, while creating a small office that would keep a deputy from the Orange County Sheriff’s Department from routinely having to scoot over to Chelsea while being paid to patrol Williamstown.
Hebert said the board did agree to invest $11,000 in a brick façade for a two-story section of the facility that the town hopes to build next to its current ambulance building on Meadow Street. With the exception of that largely aesthetic upgrade, he said the building will be a mix of concrete and metal siding – both durable, low-maintenance materials.
“There’s nothing in this building that is way above normal construction,” he said.
For the most part Hebert, Selectman Rodney Graham and Keith Robinson, an architect with Black River Design, were preaching to the choir. The audience included members of the committee that has been working on the project since 2009 and all three of the three departments that would be using it on a regular basis.
Still, there were questions — some about cost and some about design — as some of those who crammed into the meeting room at the current fire station on Depot Street sought to develop a comfort level with the project they’ve been hearing about. At least one, Becky Watson, said she’d heard all she needed to.
“I can’t think of a reason to vote ‘no,’” Watson said, after Graham fielded questions about financing and Robinson defended the design of what he predicted would be “... a very stout structural building.”
Graham, who has served as chairman of the committee that has been working on the project, said financing is still something of a moving target. “Worst case,” he said, the town will be forced to blow through a $200,000 contingency fund and be unable to qualify for a favorable loan from the U.S. Department of Agriculture that could save the community roughly $500,000 in interest.
If that happened, Graham said, the town would finance the project over 20 years through the Vermont Municipal Bond Bank.
Under that scenario, he said, approval of the $2.5 million project that is on the Town Meeting Day ballot would add an estimated $90 to the annual tax bill of a home assessed at $150,000.
According to Graham, that projected tax increase would be closer to $80 if the town qualifies for the USDA loan. He said he is optimistic the community can secure that loan and doubts the contingency account will be seriously depleted.
Though the Select Board is asking for authorization to borrow just over $2.5 million, Graham said he doesn’t expect all of that money will be needed.
“The goal is to (spend) no more than $2.4 million, and well under that if we don’t use the contingency,” he said.
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