North Stonington - Town officials spoke strongly in favor of a proposed $6.36 million emergency services complex at a well-attended town meeting Monday night.
Dozens of residents came to hear Fire/EMS Committee Chairman Mark Perkins Jr. make the volunteer fire company and ambulance volunteers' case for a new building to replace and consolidate the aging facilities.
Perkins said the fire and ambulance companies together respond to about 240 to 260 emergencies a year.
Both the firehouse on Rocky Hollow Road and the Ambulance Association building on Mains Crossing are plagued by space, modernization and health issues, Perkins said. In both, there is a lack of space for day-to-day operations, trucks do not fit in the structures and volunteers barely have enough room to dress. There are major safety concerns surrounding the lack of ventilation. In both buildings, there is no separation between the vehicle bays and the other space.
The new two-story, 18,000-square-foot building, which would be built on Rocky Hollow Road, would consolidate the two volunteer forces. A large bay would accommodate both ambulances and firetrucks with plenty of office and community space.
Peter Springsteel, who assisted the Fire/EMS committee in completing paperwork for the USDA loan, said it would not be possible to enlarge the current buildings. He also said that the current facilities are energy inefficient. He said the energy bills for the new building, though three times the size of both of the current buildings put together, would be on par with what is spent now and would save money in the long run.
Residents were told that the annual bond payment for 20 years would be about $448,000. With the scheduled termination of some debt repayments in June 2014, which have yielded an annual debt impact of $405,000, the net annual debt impact would be $43,000. The USDA loan would have a maximum interest rate of 3.5 percent.
Spring said a new emergency services complex fits in not only with the town's immediate needs but also its long-term vision.
"Public safety is a top priority," said Board of Finance Chairman Dan Spring. "It's something that town wants to see, wants to be able to count on."
First Selectman Nick Mullane said the volunteers are "well-deserving" of a new building.
"It corrects a deficiency we have," he said. "We can't keep ignoring our deficiencies or our needs. At some point in time, it gets to the point where it's not cost-effective."
Most of the questions concerned the building's tax impact. One resident requested that the cost not be tied to the property values of each home, recommending that the cost be divided evenly among property owners - about $151 annually.
Spring said that would mean changing the tax structure for everything else in town.
Others expressed skepticism over the promise of flat taxes, though Spring reassured one resident that with the expiring debt, taxes would likely remain the same with the construction of the new firehouse.
Others seemed incredulous that a new firehouse is a priority, pointing to the aging schools instead and a need for tax relief.
"Why in God's name did we just vote on a budget, and then two minutes later - oh, wait, there's more?" one resident asked.
Spring replied that the idea that costs are "piling on," he said, is "totally incorrect."
Spring added that the current facilities are "totally inadequate," and that during a period of historically low interest rates, the town needs to take the opportunity before the window closes.
Others were more supportive, saying the town would be "crazy" not to take advantage of this opportunity to fill a need. A referendum on the project is slated for July 29.