BudCom Backs Plan for Two Fire Stations

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Blasts Selectmen for also Supporting less Costly Alternative

By Patrick Cronin

Hampton Union, Tuesday, January 18, 2011

[The following article is courtesy of the Hampton Union and Seacoast Online.]

HAMPTON -- Budget Committee members blasted selectmen last week for recommending both fire station warrant articles that will go before voters at the annual Town Meeting in March, saying that support "muddies the water" and will cause nothing but confusion at the voting booth.

The committee voted Thursday, Jan. 13 to support the $7.5 million two fire-station plan and not a less costly petition warrant article to only construct a new fire station at Hampton Beach.

"I was appalled as a member Budget Committee, a resident and taxpayer in this community (by the selectmen's decision)," said Mary-Louise Woolsey, vice chairwoman of the Budget Committee.

Selectmen voted 2-1-1 on Jan. 12 to recommend the $7.5 million plan for the construction of a new substation at Hampton Beach and the conversion of the Winnacunnet Road facility into the new headquarters.

Members as well unanimously supported a $3.7 million petition warrant article filed by Skip Windemiller which seeks to only construct the beach fire station. He said while he supports the two-station concept, he fears voters will reject it due to the cost.

Windemiller believes the beach fire station is the more critical need and the $4.5 million upgrade to the Winnacunnet Road facility could wait.

Woolsey said the selectmen's vote goes against the recommendation of Fire Chief Chris Silver, who has spent the last two years working on the two-station concept with architects.

"They have given him (the chief) fancy, sugary compliments in public (for the work done) and by the vote they took, they shook the ground right from underneath him," Woolsey said.

Woolsey said voters approved a selectmen's sponsored $30,000 warrant article in 2009 to draw up plans for an addition to the Winnacunnet Road facility because they saw the need.

The goal of upgrading the Winnacunnet station is to deal with space constraints and to turn it into the new headquarters, a function that is currently in the high hazard area of the beach.

The $4.5 million proposal transplants dispatch and administrative offices from the beach to the town fire station.

Plans for a new substation at the beach were drafted after selectmen agreed to use $20,000 in the operating budget because they recognized the need of continuing to have a fire presence at the beach.

The new substation would replace the nearly century-old building at the beach that has numerous problems — including the failure of mechanical doors during the A Block fire in February 2010— and has out lived its usefulness as a fire station.

Budget Committee member Eileen Latimer said the selectmen's vote to recommend a petition warrant article to just construct a beach fire station is a disservice to the taxpayers of the town.

"Two year's worth of work got muddy for absolutely no reason," Latimer said.

She noted two selectmen had concerns about the total cost of the two-station plan but the chief has worked hard to bring the number down, shaving nearly $500,000 from the final proposal.

Woolsey said the biggest issue she has with the petition article is there are no plans behind it.

The only plan, she said, is the $3 million substation in the two-station plan which doesn't include dispatch or administrative offices.

Windemiller included an additional $600,000 in his warrant article to incorporate dispatch and administrative offices into a new substation at the beach.

"There is no plan," Woolsey said. "That figure was picked out of the air.

But more importantly, she said, it doesn't address the Winnacunnet Road facility, which was constructed in the 1970s. "We have millions and millions of taxpayer dollars sitting out exposed to the elements because that station is too small," said Woolsey. Selectmen Chairman Richard Nichols — who has publicly stated that he was against the two-station plan strictly because of the cost — said this gives voters the opportunity to decide. Language included in the petition warrant article says if the $7.5 million, two-station plan is approved then it would become null and void. Budget Committee member Mike Pierce said he supports the selectmen's decision to recommend both articles because he doesn't believe taxpayers will support the $7.5 plan in this economy. He, along with Patrick Collins, were the only BudCom members to support the petition warrant article. "I'm in favor of the $3.7 million approach because the beach fire station is the top most priority," Pierce said. "When you look at the Winnacunnet station, it may not be the most desirable station but it's definitely functional. One of the reasons why you have equipment sitting outside is because we can't put them in the beach fire station because they won't fit in the building." online Information about plans for the new fire stations is available on the Fire Department's Web site at www.hamptonfirerescue.com.
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