WILLIAMSTOWN -- A meeting to discuss the town's capital projects sparked a debate over the town's fire district Tuesday night.
Finance Committee member Dan Gendron expressed his frustration over the fire district, which operates separately from town government, moving forward with the pursuit of a new fire station at a time when the town also is in need of a new police station and high school.
The fire district has long eyed a 3.7-acre parcel on Main Street, owned by the late Kurt Lehovic's estate, for a site to replace its aging station on Water Street. After months of negotiations, the Prudential Committee, an elected body that is separate from the town's government, agreed to a purchase price of $575,000. A special meeting scheduled for Tuesday, Oct. 15, in the Elementary School auditorium will feature a single warrant article asking residents to approve the purchase of the property.
Residents have continued to stress the need for a combined facility over the past year, citing the possibility of shared resources that would be more affordable for the town. Selectmen founded the Public Safety Building Study Committee this May to explore possible sites for a new police station and a joint facility.
"Unless the issue on the 15th is voted ‘no,' our opportunity to share space or even have a larger discussion on how their particular $9 million project fits in with what our total capacity is as a town to pay, it just can't be discussed," Gendron said.
Gendron stressed that Prudential Committee member John Notsley has been a regular participant in the public safety committee's work.
"But he told me from day one, they are not interested in slowing the project down. They are not interested in somehow coordinating this huge financial picture."
Assistant Fire Chief Robert Briggs defended the fire district's work.
"We've looked at what our needs are and we've found a piece of land that's affordable," he said.
"I'm not as confident that if the Lehovic property isn't purchased it would be available later," Finance Committee member Andrew Hogeland, who also serves on the Public Safety Building Committee with Gendron, said. "My concern is if we decide not to buy Lehovic, there's no plan B. I don't think it's an irreversible decision to buy Lehovic. If you buy it, and it doesn't work out, you sell it back ... If the vote is not to buy the property, you haven't slowed [the Fire District] down -- you've stopped them."
Hogeland suggested one possible compromise. The single warrant article at the Tuesday Oct. 15 meeting could be amended on the floor to reference the purchase of the land, with the portion about demolition being removed, he said.
"The first order of business would be a feasibility study for a joint facility," Hogeland said.
Public Safety Building Study Committee Chairwoman Jane Patton, who serves on the Board of Selectmen, expressed her hope that a compromise could be reached.
"If this matters to you, go to the meeting and you have to vote," she said. "That I think is the biggest message we can get out right now."
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