Freedom — February 26, 2011 — A bond hearing for a $1.2 million safety complex aroused curiosity from about 30 residents last Friday night. Many of them wanted more information from selectmen, who promised to provide it before town meeting. The proposal is to attach a 2,500 square foot police station to the fire station on Freedom Village Road. Then the fire house would get a two bay addition that equals 2,000 square feet.
Chairman Les Babb said the proposal is meant to address the town’s top two liability concerns. The current police station, in the town office on Old Portland Road, doesn’t meet requirements for interview space, record storage and evidence storage. “There are child molesters living among us because a case was thrown out because interviews were done in that facility,” said Babb who indicated that incident occurred in the past with previous chiefs of police.
The new addition is needed for the fire station so that the town can get a new tanker truck capable of holding 3,000 gallons. That’s enough water to suppress a large fire until departments to arrive with backup tankers. The current tanker truck is about half that size, selectmen said. The town may get the truck through grant money this year, said selectmen. The town has been saving for a new tank truck but has no place to put it.
The fire station would also get an exhaust system to suck out diesel fumes from the trucks. Last year, fire chief Gene Doe showed an audience at town meeting that wall insulation in the fire station was turning black from soot. He told residents that firefighters were breathing the same air. Although the proposed warrant article calls for $1.2 million, the selectmen hope they can get it done for much less perhaps $700,000 to $800,000. The warrant article says $1,070,000 would come from a bond and the rest would come from the new municipal building and land capital reserve fund.
“We don’t like the $1.2 million number,” said Babb. “We are still working with SMP Architects and we’re also working with other people.”
Resident Jim Breslin suggested the town could save even more money if it disbanded the police department and contracted with the Carroll County sheriff’s office. Barnstead is considering such a move with the Belknap County sheriff.
Breslin also questioned the need for the tanker truck. Breslin looked at the runs sheets for the department and learned that 81 percent were made medical reasons. Then 11 percent were car accidents in the area. Only two runs were for house fires.
“The federal government doesn’t have any money, they borrow from the Chinese,” said Breslin referring to the federal grant for the fire truck. “We have deficit spending at the federal level to meet our needs. The Chinese can’t come repo our truck I hope.”
Babb disagreed with Breslin’s points. He said the community supports having a police department. But the selectmen also talked to the sheriff about the coverage he could offer. “Two house fires don’t seem like a lot unless it’s your house,” said Babb.
Resident Charlie Root wanted to see a breakdown of how much each section of the project would cost while Peter Parker wondered what the building would look like. At town meeting there will be conceptual drawings from two different contractors for what it could look like. It would cost $120,000 just to get plans drawn up to get the project to go out to bid, said Babb who is unwilling to spend the money until he’s certain the town’s people want the project. Because the complex is meant to house emergency services it has to be built 20 percent stronger than a normal building so they can withstand disasters, said fire chief Gene Doe.
Selectman Neal Boyle asked the residents if they were willing to spend to make the outside of the building eye pleasing. “For $50 I’d say make it pretty for $200,000 make it plain,” resident Bob Smart replied. “Before I give you an answer I need to know the cost is.” Selectmen estimated the aesthetic costs to be about $40,000.
Several residents replied that they should make the building attractive. Residents also discussed the length of the bond. Several said 10 years would be optimal. A 10-year bond would cost about 20 cents on the tax rate. For a $175,000 home it would add about $41 to the tax bill. An informational meeting will be held about this warrant article and others before town meeting, selectmen said.
In a phone interview, police chief Josh Shackford didn’t have the details regarding the sex offender case that Babb mentioned. However, he said the police department offers no privacy. For example, Shackford said he once had a suspect in the process of confessing to multiple burglaries when a resident started pounding on the door demanding to pay a ticket. Now, interviews are normally done at Madison Police Department.
If we are going to do this, let’s do it right the first time. Make it large enough to compensate for future need for both departments. Material and labor costs will only rise, so make sure we get it right once and for all.