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Board OKs design funding for carport at police station

Questions remain about spending priorities

BRATTLEBORO—With construction complete at the new police station, the new West Brattleboro fire station, and the renovated Central Station, the town is left with about $300,000 in the police-fire facilities budget.

What to do with all of that money?

At the May 15 regular Selectboard meeting, Assistant Town Manager Patrick Moreland and Board members discussed some options.

According to Board Chair Kate O’Connor, the Police-Fire Facilities Committee made three recommendations: build a carport at the police station; fix the police station’s roof; and give the fire station new dispatch equipment.

The easiest project to begin is the carport, estimated to cost $150,000. The Selectboard can authorize the town to spend $10,000 to have an architect draw up plans for the structure without having to get approval from Representative Town Meeting.

Once the plans are ready, the Board first decides whether to move forward and build the carport. If they approve, then the decision goes to Representative Town Meeting.

Push to consider priorities

Not all Board members were convinced this was the best use of the surplus funds.

“It would be worth our while to see where else we can spend this money,” said Selectboard member David Schoales, who noted other important municipal projects are in need of funding.

“Is spending $150,000 on a carport the best use of this money?” he asked.

Schoales noted the carport wasn’t part of the original plans for the new police facility at 62 Black Mountain Road. But he acknowledged that Police Chief Michael Fitzgerald “made an airtight argument for the carport” at a recent Board meeting. “I’m not saying we shouldn’t have it,” Schoales said, “but let’s look at other priorities."

O’Connor noted the carport’s construction wouldn’t begin until next March, because the project must get RTM approval, so, she asked, “why do the design now?” She also recommended staff focus on the police station’s roof, which is in need of repair now.

“We are working on getting the roof estimate,” said Moreland, adding that the cost for those plans is quite low.

Moreland agreed the carport “is not an absolutely essential component” of the police station, “but it’s never been examined in any detail.” There’s no scope and no design, he said. If the Selectboard “is potentially interested” in the project, the Town Manager’s office can “get a solid plan with costs,” for their consideration. “We have no idea of the cost right now,” Moreland noted.

The Selectboard unanimously authorized spending no more than $10,000 for technical services to design and develop cost estimates for a carport at 62 Black Mountain Road.

Money from General Fund

The catch is, that money must come out of the General Fund. It can go back into the Police & Fire Facilities Fund later, but not now.

In email correspondence with The Commons, Moreland explained why.

“The Police & Fire Facilities Project was completed under budget, leaving approximately $300,000 in bond proceeds. That money can only be used on project expenses, using it on anything else will require an action by Representative Town Meeting,” Moreland said.

“I can just hear you asking, why isn’t a carport for police cruisers a project expense? The answer is, you are right, a carport would be a project expense,” he said.

In 2016, voters approved $12.8 million in funding for the entire police-fire facilities project, which included a new West Brattleboro Fire Station, an expanded and renovated Central Fire Station, and a new police headquarters at 62 Black Mountain Road.

“With [the police station] now complete, I can report that we have spent $4,493,282 in bond proceeds thus far. That leaves only $6,718,” Moreland said.

Although the entire project leaves about $300,000 in the overall police-fire facilities budget, the portion allocated to the police station isn’t enough to cover the cost to draw up the carport plans.

“To continue to spend bond proceeds at 62 Black Mountain Road will require the approval of Representative Town Meeting. Not sure at this time if we will seek to hold a special meeting or just wait until next March. If RTM authorizes these expenditures then the General Fund will be reimbursed,” Moreland said.

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Originally published in The Commons issue #460 (Wednesday, May 23, 2018). This story appeared on page D4.

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