Bow taxpayers group offers alternative to safety complexBy SUSAN CLARK
Union Leader Correspondent
February 25. 2014 8:58PM
BOW — Concerned Taxpayers of Bow has presented a petitioned warrant article it says is a money-saving alternative to the town’s $6,796,000 proposal to build a new fire and police safety facility on town-owned land.
The group’s petition is asking voters for $225,000 to repair the electrical system in the fire station and community center, and provide proper ventilation in the center’s kitchen. The petition was signed by 120 registered voters, and member Bryan K. Gould said it would satisfy the town’s needs in the long-term.
“The $225,000 will remedy the electrical issues the fire marshal identified when the town fire chief invited him to inspect the firehouse. It will also pay for repairs to the hood and ventilation system for the cook top in the building,” he said. “The $225,000 will certainly fix the issues with the firehouse/community center that have been raised as a justification for spending over $10 million on a new complex.”
The town proposes a 25,000-square-foot public safety building to house the fire, emergency management and police departments. In addition, voters will have a choice of approving $4,640,000 to renovate the fire station and the community center, and $1,724,000 to renovate the existing police station. The Board of Selectmen and the Budget Committee do not support the articles to repair the facilities.
Another article seeks $200,000 to install a geothermal heating and cooling system in the public safety building. If the safety building proposal is approved, the bonds to repair the two properties will be deemed void. Each town-proposed article must pass by a two-thirds vote. The petition article needs a majority vote to pass.
“Bow’s tax rate is in the top 10 percent for New Hampshire. By any objective measure, Bow residents are already overtaxed,” said Gould. “The project will cost more than $6.8 million. We know that it will be at least $7 million if the proposed method of heating it — geothermal — is approved. If the geothermal proposal is rejected, presumably there will be another expenditure for some other form of heating. Interest on the bonds will be over $3 million making the capital investment over $10 million. This doesn’t include the cost of furnishings and equipment.”
Members of the group said they have been told it would be too expensive to renovate the existing fire and police stations because of the new structural standards, which require new buildings to withstand hurricanes and other natural disasters.
“The new building would be built to that standard,” said Town Manager David Stack.
But the group said other towns have built public safety centers for $3 to 5 million less than Bow’s proposal, and it’s a matter of want rather than need, said Gould.
“There are far less costly alternatives to a new complex, such as repairing any deficiencies in the existing buildings. Even if the town concludes that a new public safety complex is important enough to bond for, the cost of the proposed Bow facility is two to three times higher than what other similarly sized towns have spent on such projects over the past three or four years,” he said.
The group cites North Hampton, which built two fire stations totaling 20,000 square feet for $5.7 million last year; Brentwood’s 10,000-square-foot station was built for about $2 million in 2010; Pelham’s 18,000-square-foot station for $3.9 million in 2012; and New Hampton’s fire and police complex for $2.23 million in 2011.
Stack said this year’s proposal has been trimmed by about $1 million, cutting about 5,000 square feet of space.
“The community as a whole has to decide what it wants to do,” he said. “The bond will alleviate the fire station issues and bring the fire and community building up to code.”
The police station at 12 Robinson Road, which also contains the town’s Department of Public Works, must also be brought up to building, fire and safety codes, and American Disability Act accessibility compliance. The facility was built in the 1980s as a public works building, Stack said.
“It’s a great DPW building, but that’s what it was designed for and not a police station. There are no holding cells in there now or a sally port to bring in suspects to ensure the safety of police personnel and the public,” he said. “It was actually a heavy, large truck maintenance company that was converted into a police station in front and DPW offices in back.”
Gould said voters should take a careful look at the warrants and view the group’s presentation, “What is the Cost?” on its website, bowtaxpayers.org/bow.
“Last year, even without an organized opposition, the bond issue failed. There is obviously some support in town for the project, but we think that if Bow taxpayers are informed of the facts there will not be enough support to approve the proposal,” he said.