Future of life safety complex debated at town meeting
March 17, 2010
TILTON — Just over 100 people spent more than five hours Saturday debating, for the most part, the status of the proposed life safety complex, including the building the town already owns and the one it wants to build.
After tabling the first two articles pertaining to the proposed building's future – the first would have purchased land on Route 132 that became unavailable at the last minute, and the second, put on the warrant for discussion purposes, would have constructed a new police station with space for a potential future fire station – residents tackled an article that gave selectmen the authority to sell or lease the building.
Vince Paratore, chairman of the Life Safety Building Committee, said during a slideshow presentation that in the past year, the committee has determined the best site of a potential life safety complex, which would be within a half-mile radius of the I-93/Route 3 junction. Though the 61 Business Park Drive building purchased by the town in 2008 fits that bill, Paratore said the committee "would strongly recommend against this location." He said it is the wrong location, with poor access, poor visibility, and only one egress, among other issues.
Plus, he said, it was originally estimated that the building could be retrofitted for $2.5 million.
"We've come to find out that it couldn't be built for all that money," he said, noting that final estimates for that project are closer to $4.473 million.
Those problems, along with Northfield's announcement that it was recommending dissolution of the Tilton-Northfield Fire District, strongly supported the committee's recommendation to sell the building, Paratore said.
"All our research indicated that 61 Business Park Drive just is not the right location," he said. "We do own it, but we stand firm it is the wrong location."
LSBC Chair Ben LaBelle said that of the nearly 20 sites evaluated initially, 10 or so are within the designated ½-mile radius, and all have strengths and weaknesses. He said that although the committee's first choice is no longer an option, "there are other sites."
"Fortunately we have a (building) design that's sort of modular in nature that can be adaptable to different sites," he said.
Several people criticized the decision to sell the Business Park Drive building at this time. Resident Joe Plessner noted that the building is for sale at $1.2 million, which means a $400,000 loss.
"What is the particular hurry of selling this property in a bad time for real estate?" he asked. "The longer we keep it and continue to pay on it … we could stand to lose even more."
Budget Committee Chair Toni Belair said the town should focus on building a police station and leave the fire district out of it.
"I have a lot of concerns of the whole life-safety building scenario," she said. "We are the Town of Tilton, and we need a new police station facility … If we have this property and sell it at this time, I'm concerned that we don't have someplace else (for the police station) to go."
Budget Committee member Lynne Fox said that while the Business Park Drive site is a poor location, she was hesitant "to rush to sell it right now" in this economy and made a motion to table the article, which was defeated.
Resident Scott Davis made a motion to amend the article, saying the town "shouldn't be in the business of leasing." His amendment also stipulated that the sale had to be greater than or equal to the amount listed in the 2009 town report, or $1,048,800.
"I'm not sure why the town shouldn't be in a position to lease this property," selectmen Chair Katherine Dawson said, noting that the town stood to profit from potential leases if it couldn't sell right away.
Resident Pat Clark, who was just elected fire commissioner, was for the amendment.
"The longer we have this piece of property, the longer it's going to muddle the question of where this is going to go," he said.
The amendment passed 49-31.
Several people then pointed out problems with the amendment's passage.
The selectmen said that the town's current contract with the Metropolitan Medical Response System, which is storing vehicles in the facility and in return paying for its utilities, would no longer be valid because of the amendment's passage. Since voters specifically took away the selectmen's ability to lease the building, the contract would have to be voided, and the town would assume the responsibility of paying for heat and utilities.
Clark suggested another amendment to allow the current tenant to stay, under the provision that it would insure the building for fire and liability. That amendment failed, after it was pointed out that the tenant has insurance coverage, and the selectmen argued that they still wouldn't have the right to lease if MMRS were to leave.
Although RSA 41 allows the selectmen to lease or sell the property, and in 2007 voters gave the board the right to convey all town property, Dawson said that they had put the article forth in an effort to make sure they knew what voters wanted them to do with this particular building. She said she would not be inclined to go against the wishes of voters regardless of what the board could do legally.
Fox said that the amended article took away "all our bargaining chips," as anyone interested in the property could look at the town report and see the least amount the town would be willing to sell for.
"We either trust our selectmen or no," Fox said. "They're not going to try to sell at a loss."
Fox made a motion to amend the article to return it to its original wording. That motion passed, as did the vote to pass the article as amended.
The other article regarding the LSBC asked for $20,000 for the committee to continue its work. Selectman and LSBC member Pat Consentino motioned to amend the dollar amount to $10,000, because the committee still had about $10,000 left over from last year.
LaBelle said the committee's intent is to continue to find a suitable site, and if one is found before the year is out, they may have a special town meeting to vote on acquiring land.
"With all due respect to the Life Safety Building Committee," resident Joseph Jesseman said, "I can't be the only voter here who's so totally sick of this."
Jesseman said the focus should be on the police station, and not a life safety complex.
Tilton resident and police officer Nate Morrison said that he "can function as a police officer no matter what," but that spending more money on the committee won't make a difference, because they have enough information.
Resident David Fox said he felt the committee should continue.
"Twenty-thousand dollars to make a smart, informed decision is short money," he said.
The article passed as amended, giving $10,000 to the committee.