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Bedford land buy talk precedes fire substation bond vote

BEDFORD — There was little public comment at the Town Council’s Jan. 8 public hearing on land reserve expenditures for the fire substation and Wathen Road properties.

Resident Peter Kujawski objected to spending $288,000 for property to build a fire substation along South River Road. He said response time, as recommended by the National Fire Protection Association, is 14 miles or 8 minutes at 35 mph, without sirens and traffic lights. The farthest point from the primary fire station on Route 101 to the Merrimack town line is 6.2 miles or 11 minutes, and 6.4 miles or 12 minutes to the northwest corner of town, he said, citing Google maps.

He also asked about the council’s reasons for buying property before the $4 million fire substation bond goes to voters in March.

Town Manager Jessie Levine said if voters do not approve the bond, the land could be sold at a profit.

“Voters did approve a fire substation as part of the infrastructure bond in 2011. Unfortunately, the bond didn’t include enough funds to cover the whole project so there’s some assumption that voters did support it up to a point,” said Levine, whose last day as town manager is today.

Council Chairman Chris Bandazian said the infrastructure bond received more than a two-thirds vote in 2011.

Councilor Bill Dermody added that the money has been set aside in the Town Council’s land reserve fund and will not affect the budget or the tax rate. The process may seem backward, said Dermody, but the land is available now and is a prime location for a substation.

According to Levine, the property’s location cannot be disclosed because of ongoing negotiations.

Many councilors agreed that timing is right to buy the land, and cited the need for ambulance services in the area.

“If I was a gambling person, the chances are higher that I would see a greater return on investment by investing in actual land than it sitting in a fund,” said Councilor Kelleigh Domaingue.

Resident Carolyn Akins agreed with Kujawski and recommended the Town Council look into leasing a property to house an ambulance rather than buying land and building a new fire substation. She said one of the Merrimack fire stations is vacant.

“Just a facility to answer emergency calls because you’ve got Bentley (Commons assisted living facility), the Arbors and a whole lot of senior citizens and care facilities, and 149 homes in Village Green,” she said.

Fire Chief Scott Wiggin has said the need for a fire station is the result of increased housing and businesses developing along South River Road. A year-to-date comparison resulted in 574 fire and 1,371 ambulance calls in 2012; and 571 fire and 1,557 ambulance calls from January to November 2013 townwide. In November 2012, the fire department responded to 51 fire calls and 120 ambulance calls, with calls increasing to 63 fires and 163 for ambulance and emergency medical services in November 2013.

The fire substation, if approved by voters in March, would be manned by three firefighters/emergency medical technicians and one ambulance.

There was no public comment on spending $162,600 from the land reserve fund for a residential property on Wathen Road. The home on the Wathen Road property, off South River Road near Colby Court, will be purchased and razed to save money on repairing a bridge over McQuesten Brook, as part of a wetland mitigation project.

After the land expenditures were approved, the council made a $451,000 adjustment to the proposed budget bringing the total town’s anticipated budget appropriations to $26.1 million.

Other discussions

The council voted to amend the Sunday sales ordinance allowing all sales on Sunday in Bedford without licensing fees, compliance, town enforcement and fines, which could cost $100 per day for violations.

Levine said amending the ordinance makes Bedford more business-friendly and repeals outdated blue laws.

The council also amended the Tax Increment Financing District project. In 2010, the council created the district on South River Road to identify property values and tax revenues and to invest in the area’s infrastructure.

“The assumptions underestimated the costs of the project and overestimated the revenue, which left us with a shortfall to be able to proceed with any of the anticipated improvements in the TIF district,” said Levine.

About $900,000 would be transferred to the TIF district, and the debt payment would come out of the general fund budget. The TIF would be responsible for that debt payment, and about $108,000 would be removed from the 2014 budget, decreasing taxes by 3 cents per $1,000 assessed property value.

The council will hold a public meeting on the TIF amendment, the proposed $4 million fire station bond, the proposed $30 million road repair bond and the 2014 operating budget on Wednesday, Feb. 12, at 7 p.m., at the Bedford Meeting Room, 10 Meetinghouse Road.

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