By Adam Swift
As expected, the future of the town’s plans to build a new fire station was a big topic of discussion at Tuesday night’s Town Council meeting.
Last week, voters rejected a debt exclusion that would have allowed for the financing of a $35 to $40 million fire station on Winthrop Street.
Tuesday night, Town Council President Jim Letterie and Town Manager Tony Marino said there will be more information to come in the near future about the direction the town will take to build a new fire station.
Several residents also gave their feedback on how town leaders can best address the push for a new fire station.
In the wake of last week’s vote, Vasili Mallios said he put out a poll on Facebook asking why people voted against the debt exclusion. Of the over 600 answers he received, Mallios said the top reason, with about 34 percent of the votes, was the location.
“I think you guys have done an amazing job trying to push forth for the firehouse to be built, and just because the outcome of the vote was a no, it does not mean that we put our heads down and pout,” said Mallios. “We have to figure out another solution, because we do need this, we all know that.”
Mallios suggested that the town use social media, among other avenues, in a positive way to get out and to gather information about any future firehouse project.
Letterie noted that he and Marino have met several times since the election to discuss the next steps forward.
“I think we will be coming forward with variations of plans for people to look at,” said Letterie.
The council president said he took responsibility for the outcome of the vote on the ballot question, and that there needed to be more education about and understanding of any future vote that comes forward. Letterie also reiterated that there has been no decision made at this time as to when there may be another vote on a fire station or public safety project.
“We are committed to having a firehouse/public safety building in the very near future and there will be something to bring forward to the community in the next couple of months,” said Letterie.
Board of Health Chair Bill Schmidt said he spent a lot of time campaigning for some candidates in the lead up to the Nov. 7 election and had many discussions about the fire station proposal.
“Universally, everybody I talked to believed we needed a new firehouse,” said Schmidt. “There were a lot of questions on the location, the process, where the tenants were going to go, the cost.”
Schmidt said that rather than the Town Council and town manager bringing forth a proposal, they should engage the public and present options so that people can weigh in on all of the options. He added that the town might also want to consider a ballot question option that offers more than one alternative for a fire station plan.
“It seems like 85 to 90 percent of people in town believe we need a fire station, and I think they were pretty clear in speaking afterwards that is not that (they) do not believe that we don’t need one, but that (they) need more information or didn’t understand this or didn’t like the site,” said Letterie. “We will be incredibly more detailed in the coming months.”
Marino stated that the town will be using survey software to gauge public input and feedback on the options for the fire station project so that when there is a new ballot question, town officials are more confident that there is community buy-in.
Marino also noted that he is putting the finishing touches on a Request for Information for the economic development of the old middle school site. He said that questions about the middle school site were often brought up in conjunction with the lead up to the vote on the fire station.