WESTPORT — Officials are still trying to figure out how to provide adequate town-government and fire buildings for Westport in the wake of two public votes that rejected projects considered too expensive.
The problem of need vs. affordability was aired at a recent meeting.
“We felt, as a town board, the problem has not gone away,” Supervisor Dan Connell said as the town is once again investigating alternatives for the Town Hall, Fire Station and Public Works buildings.
Bonding referendums were defeated in June 2010 and July 2011, but the town has been under mandate to repair or replace the structures.
Westport has been reviewing options that would provide required safety, meet federal Environmental Protection Agency and other government mandates, be economically feasible and win voter approval.
“Our main interest is to have conversations with the town, give this presentation and receive comments to get information to drive our decisions,” Town Council member Dan McCormick said.
Two committees have been meeting, one for possible construction of a Department of Public Works and Fire Department structure on Route 22, north of the hamlet, and the other for the renovation of the current Town Hall.
McCormick analogized the situation to an old vehicle that reaches the point at which the costs to keep it running exceed those of purchasing a new one.
Fire Department Treasurer Gordon Decker added, “I don’t feel the needs have changed.”
“After the second vote, it has become a responsibility to find a way to solve the town’s problems,” Fire Commissioner Bruce Misarski said. “I see many possible outcomes. We hear rumors, but we’re all in this to find solutions.”
A presentation brief was given by Andrea K. Murray and Ashar Nelson of Vermont Integrated Architecture of Middlebury, Vt.
“You’re investing in this for many decades,” he said.
With energy efficiency, there will be a payback in savings,” Nelson said. “If you don’t do things soon, the costs are likely to go up.
“There are functionality issues, such as space to work on trucks. The needs are pretty explicit.”
“The long and short of it, we have outgrown our building,” DPW Superintendent Dennis Westover said. “We need certain-size trucks. When I started 28 years ago, they fit well. Now, they have to sit outside and be plugged in.
“But the biggest key is safety. I need a clean, safe environment for my men to work in.”
Committee member Jim Rule also stressed safety for the Fire Department.
“It is not practical to upgrade,” he said. “We need storage space for gear. The building sits in a hole, and ice accumulates. We simply need a new building.”
Speaking for the Town Hall Revitalization Committee, Bill Johnston indicated the project has been worked on for about a year.
“We have been looking over the deficiencies and what it might take to renovate the building. It leaks like a sieve, there are access and safety issues, there’s a need to modernize and bring it up to code, and the frame needs stiffening. As for the good assets, it is a basically sound building and an integral part of our community.
“We’re hoping to have an energy audit, and we are looking at funding possibilities, such as a New York State preservation program.”
The rest of the meeting was for the approximately 50 residents in attendance to offer opinions.
“I want to speak in behalf of the people of my generation,” said Matt Bosley, who moved to Westport with his young family in 2009.
“I was disappointed when the first two votes went down. What are the consequences if we don’t do this? We urge you to consider growth versus a dying community.”
Councilman Russ Paquette said the town is not dying.
“We are building million-dollar homes.” he said. “They all pay taxes. It’s always been a tourist town. What do we want — a Lake George? As far as this building, we can do it this time. You have to factor all of these things. It’s got to happen.”
“I was glad to hear you were remodeling and preserving this building,” said Dee Carroll. “I’d just as soon keep the offices downstairs. Sometimes, this is the only space for a meeting.”
Addressing the inefficiency of the current building, McCormick pointed out that to keep the Town Hall at 58 degrees is a challenge and costs about $3,600 a year.
Tom Broderick cautioned, “Considering our population and the cost, spend our money wisely. I am willing to go there. It’s needed.”
The committees will hold several more meetings, as well as public forums. The next meeting is scheduled for 7 p.m. Jan. 13 at the Town Hall, open to all.
It is hoped that a feasibility study will be completed in April, followed by a referendum shortly after that.
If passed, construction could begin in fall 2014.
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