Town to vote on two fire stations
Both facilities would total $8 million
By Patrick Cronin
Hampton Union, Friday, July 30, 2010
[The following article is courtesy of the Hampton Union and Seacoast Online.]
HAMPTON -- Selectmen intend to move forward with presenting voters with two fire station projects totaling $8 million in March, but may end up dipping in to the town's $16 million trust fund to lower the costs to make it more attractive to taxpayers.
The board voted 3-1, with one abstention, Monday, July 26, to move forward with the plan to ask voters to approve both projects — one constructing a new substation at Hampton Beach and another to convert the Winnacunnet Road facility into a new headquarters.
Selectmen Chairman Richard Nichols voted against it while Selectman Jerry Znoj abstained because he wanted more information before making a decision.
The vote came after a one-hour public hearing where the majority who spoke wanted to see both long talked about projects come to fruition.
Nichols' concern was cost of both projects and was advocating moving forward with only the beach fire station project at this time.
The cost for a new substation at the beach is $3.2 million while the headquarters project on Winnacunnet Road came in at $4.8 million.
"It's not the plans or the strategy that I have a problem with," Nichols said. "The problem I have is the $8 million price tag."
Nichols said if both projects are approved the impact to the tax rate would be 26 1/2 cents per thousand of assessed evaluation. The average taxpayer, with a home assessed at $366,000, would be paying an extra $96 a year.
Nichols said there are other big ticket items coming down the line, including a potential $10 million renovation of Hampton Academy.
But Selectman Rick Griffin said that is why they need to move forward with both projects.
"We have to be prepared to make an investment," Griffin said. "We know we have these other things coming up. I think we need to let the voters have their say."
Selectman Bill Lally said the plan has always been to first upgrade the fire station on Winnacunnet Road and then construct a new substation at the beach.
The reason, he said, was to move the headquarters out of the high hazard area at the beach to the uptown station.
Znoj said his concern is cost, especially with the Winnacunnet Road facility.
He questioned why a smaller scale addition to the existing building couldn't be done.
Selectman Richard Bateman said discussions regarding fire stations has been going on for more than six years.
The two current facilities, he said, need to be replaced.
The beach fire station was constructed in 1923, contains lead paint, mold, a failing roof, substandard electrical system, fails to meet life safety codes and lacks a vehicle emission system.
The size of uptown station, officials said, is inadequate.
"I believe we have reasonability to let the voters vote," Bateman said. "They may vote for it, they may not but it's the decision of the people."
Lally said the chief has worked on the current proposal for over a year.
After previous proposals regarding fire stations failed at the voting booth, voters approved spending $30,000 to draw up conceptual plans to upgrade the Winnacunnet Road fire station.
Selectmen added another $20,000 from the town's operating budget to include plans for a new substation at the beach.
The cost for both projects is based on those plans.
"The proposal the chief brought before us should be the proposal that should be brought before the taxpayers," Lally said. "I think it's up to us to make it more attractive and to educate the people on why its needed."
The idea of possibly withdrawing or borrowing from the $16 million Hampton Beach Real Estate Fund came up last week from resident John Nickerson.
The suggestion appeared to gain momentum after several other residents brought it up during a pubic hearing on the fire station projects that was held prior to the board decision.
Nichols said it's something the board should look at.
"I think we first need to understand what the legal issues are and the second is the financial implications," Nichols said.
The town's $16 million real estate fund that was created in 1983 when the town allowed residents to purchase the leased land at Hampton Beach. All the revenue generated from that trust fund which is invested by the trustees is used to offset taxes.
"It would be beneficial from a tax rate standpoint in the short run, but the question is the impact in the long run with taking the money out of the trust funds," Nichols said.