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Freedom voters question $1.2 million public safety building proposal



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ABOUT THREE DOZEN VOTERS turned out Feb. 18 to hear about selectmen’s proposed plans to turn the town’s fire station into a public safety building. (Mellisa Ferland photo) (click for larger version)
February 24, 2011
FREEDOM — About three dozen people turned out Feb. 18 to hear about selectmen's proposed plans to turn the town's fire station into a public safety building. Freedom is one of three area towns considering new fire stations this year. Ossipee Corner and Tuftonboro voters will also be asking voters to approve new stations as well.

This is the second go-round in Freedom after a plan priced at over $3 million was shot down by voters last year. That plan would have served the needs of the public safety departments of the town for the next 20 years, according to selectmen, but has been scaled back to $1.2 million to serve the needs of today.

The main concern, according to Selectman Chair Les Babb, is getting the police department out of the current town office building and into a more secure location. Former selectman Jim Breslin asked if the board has looked at all the options and alternative solutions to building a new facility. Could a deal be worked out with the county to store records and police evidence at the county complex? Does the call volume in Freedom justify even having a police department? "The need has to be real," said Breslin, questioning whether or not the selectmen have considered all the impacts this proposal will have on the budget. "What else are we doing to reduce the taxes in this town?" he asked.

As for the fire station expansion that is included in the project, Breslin said he did a study of the emergency calls the fire department responded to last year and 81 percent were medical calls, 11 percent were car accidents and there were only two fires in town last year.

"The need exists," said Babb. "Two house fires doesn't seem like a lot unless it's your house on fire."

Generally, the group expressed support of the board's plan to add a couple of bays onto the current fire station, expand the parking area and add on an attached police department with a kitchen, offices and a secure evidence room. But they want more details.

Peter Park said he had hoped to see more than a floor plan coming into the night's public budget hearing. He said he understands the new facility is needed but wants to see more details to have a better idea of what the building will look like.

Anne Cunningham asked the board to have firm bond bank numbers at town meeting so when voters are asked to cast their ballot they know exactly the impact it will have on their property taxes.

Selectmen are hoping to amend down the requested $1.2 million at town meeting, said Babb. He said there are plenty of details that can make even the slightest cost difference such as what the exterior will look like. "If the difference is $50, make it pretty but for $200,000, keep it plain," said resident Bob Smart. Selectmen were also urged to keep in mind when making modifications to the plan that "aesthetics are less important than energy efficiency and durability."

Selectmen are hoping the project will have little to no tax impact on Freedom property owners. The 10-year bond that was taken out to rebuild Ossipee Lake Road and Bennett Road is now paid off and the annual payment of $125,000 is what they are hoping this building project will cost.

Selectmen were left at the end of the hearing with a list of questions and suggestions from the group and agreed to hold a public information night sometime before town meeting March 8.

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