Selectmen last night responded to an alleged Open Meeting Law violation and heard about the updated fire station proposal and related criticisms.
Bob Joyce, who filed that complaint, spoke in the early open session. He said that while he agrees that the town needs a new center fire station, he disagrees with how the process has been handled recently, as outlined in his complaint filed with the attorney general.
"Not that he has to, but I do wish the town manager had told me about the meeting, since I've been asking for such a meeting for weeks," said Joyce. "Maybe there's a gray area in the open meeting law? Were the selectmen notified? Are there minutes? Who went?"
Joyce spoke to several of the abutting neighbors who will be affected by the station and found that "more than half didn't want it, a few were on the fence and one said they didn't have a problem with it."
Joyce said concerns voiced by the neighbors included: the road that would have to be reconfigured; the flashing light at entrance to the station; the width of the road; the lack of backyard necessitating equipment maintenance in the front; and concern about funding. Joyce said that while the project isn't set to increase taxes, he wondered if an alternate plan could lower town rates.
As Selectman Jon Kurland began to reply to Joyce's complaints, Selectman George Dixon asked that they table the discussion until hearing back from the state attorney general.
Later in the meeting the selectmen passed a motion to find Joyce's letter as having no merit and submit a denial request to the attorney general. Town officials said town counsel's opinion on the matter was no rules were broken.
Fire Chief Mike Curran, Permanent Building Committee Co-Chairman Pat Maloney and Weston and Sampson's Jeff Alberti also presented the fire station conceptual cost estimate.
Before the presentation, Maloney responded to the "newest conspiracy of breaking the open meeting law" by responding to Joyce's complaint and a recent "Better Not Bigger" newsletter line by line.
Maloney and Cohen said that the March 19 meeting Joyce called into question was intentionally informal and an opportunity for the neighbors to express their concerns. Maloney said the responses were similar to those gathered by Joyce.
Maloney said that the four selectmen and two members of his committee were there to listen and that several similar meetings have been held in the past.
"Bob has attended many of our meetings, but we don't think we need him to tell us how to do our jobs," said Maloney. "Those people came out to be heard at the meeting. Don't let their voices be overpowered by a political zealot."
Fire Station Costs
Maloney showed the considered alternatives and related costs to the proposed fire station, noting that the majority of the selection committee -- including firefighters and department of public works workers as well as Maloney -- chose the plan to build a new station next to town hall. The decision to take renovation of the current central station off the table was made by the committee, not Cohen, Maloney said.
Maloney said renovating and updating the current station would cost almost as much as building the new one and would not fulfill all of the needs of the town and firefighters.
The cost estimation now has the project at $7.8 million including contingency, close to the recent estimate of $7.5 million. If approved by voters in a non-binding ballot question and at Town Meeting, the station construction will cost roughly $624,000 for town in its first year.
Chief Curran presented on the current station, which was built in 1955 when there was one full-time employee, the chief. There are 58 now, he said. Issues include: some trucks don't fit in the bays; equipment is stored in the cellar that floods; communications equipment as well as plumbing and wiring are out of date are out of date; shoring keeping cement from falling in the cellar is keeping two bays from being used; and equipment that should be stored central has been relocated to other stations.
Alberti also ran through the financials for the project and said the town was in a good financial position to build due to low bond interest rates, the town's healthcare reforms and increased stabilization money.
The fire station's administrative offices will be moved to soon-to-be available office space in town hall to save space in the new building, Alberti said.
"The new building will be a 50- to 100-year-old building, as Chelmsford does," said Maloney.