WILLIAMSTOWN - With a need for both a new fire and police station, residents continue to question whether a joint public safety facility could house both departments.
But Town Manager Peter Fohlin said in his opinion, both departments must be brought under the same governance before that possibility can be explored.
"I am not opposed to a combined public safety building," he said at Monday's board of selectmen meeting. "But I have to simply say, I can't support it until the Fire District is dissolved and becomes a town department reporting to the town manager and the board of selectmen."
The Fire District is a separate government entity with its own tax rate, budget, annual meeting and governing board, Fohlin explained, a fact many residents are unaware of.
Fire District officials have said the current 62 year old station on Water Street is antiquated, and they have entered negotiations to purchase a parcel of land at 562 to 580 Main St. to build a new station.
Fohlin said the Prudential Committee would need to contact the board of selectmen if its members were interested in cooperating on a facility at that or another location.
At the board of selectmen meeting on March 11, Fohlin presented selectmen with a Town Meeting article requesting $160,000 for the design of a new station, suggesting that it be built on the corner of North and Main Streets. The land is owned byWilliams College, he said, which has indicated it would be willing to sell.
But some residents are still advocating for a joint facility.
"It makes economic sense," Finance Committee member Andrew Hogeland said at Monday's meeting.
Hogeland said his research shows other communities have seen savings close to 20 percent by having a joint facility.
Police Sgt. Scott McGowan expressed his support of a station at Fohlin's proposed site and said the current facility doesn't support the department's needs. McGowan said the current station at the rear of the Town Hall only has one interview room next to the lobby, meaning suspects, victims and bystanders get uncomfortably close to each other.
"We have become dangerously close to loosing cases at that facility," he said.
Fohlin said the new facility's location, and whether or not a joint facility is built, is ultimately up to voters, but said he believed the site on North and Main Streets is an ideal location.
"When people in distress are looking for the police station, it shouldn't be hidden," Fohlin said. "It should be visible in an readily accessible location."
Fohlin said his favorite site is the former Agway building at 600 Main St., describing it as highly visible with easy access to Route 2.
According to Transcript archives, the building has been empty since the farm and garden store closed its doors in 2009 after 45 years of business.
Fohlin cautioned that one downside to using the Agway site is that the new use would take the property off of the town's tax roles, and he did not like the idea of taking any commercial property off of the tax roles.
"If the taxpayers and voters and board of selectmen somehow feel otherwise, that's fine, but that's my opinion," he said.