2015-04-16 / Editorial

Two important questions

By Mary Meagher

Over the next few weeks, Jamestowners will vote on two major projects. On April 28, voters will cast a ballot to approve (or not) a bond to purchase the PAC Club and the 41,000-squarefoot lot. The purchase price is $800,000, but the bond includes up to $700,000 for renovations, for a total amount not to exceed $1.5 million. Then, at the financial town meeting on June 1, voters will be asked to approve a $2.5 million bond to build an 8,000-square-foot addition and renovate 3,700 square feet of the fire station. The cost includes the purchase of a new fire truck for $300,000.

I support both initiatives for the same reason I have worked to deliver zero tax increases these past two years: to give you the best government for the least money.

Both projects will resolve issues that have persisted for too many years. Both initiatives will allow us to improve town facilities and programs. I recognize they require an outlay of significant dollars, to be paid over time. But they are investments that will ensure better services for the whole community.

The need for improvements to the fire station is pretty clear. The current building is not large enough (in depth or in height) to accommodate a standard-sized truck. So, for the past 40 years, the town has purchased custom trucks at a custom price. We need to buy a truck this year and another in three years. A standard truck costs about 300,000; a custom truck costs 550,000. And a custom truck costs more to maintain.

Also, space is tight, especially on the first floor, where there’s not enough room for equipment, supplies and vehicles. Training facilities and meeting rooms on the second floor are not handicap accessible.

The fire department and emergency medical services merged in 2011 and last year introduced advanced life support. The service requires both paid staff and volunteers 24/7. It is headquartered in the ambulance barn on Knowles Court, which doesn’t have adequate sleeping quarters or bathrooms to accommodate the EMS workers. The renovated fire station will provide the facilities required for the staff and their vehicles. With both divisions located under one roof, the ambulance barn can be repurposed or sold.

The purchase of the PAC property provides an opportunity that we never anticipated. Who ever thought the Holy Ghost Society would be selling their building? What has been planned, however, is the revitalization of our recreation department so that it better serves the needs of our entire community: young, old and in between. The department has long suffered from limited resources and facilities. For example, the second floor of the golf course building, which was used for adult programs, was deemed structurally unsafe and those programs curtailed.

With a background in recreational programming, Town Administrator Andy Nota is ideally suited to steer this revival. And he sees great possibilities with the property. The main hall has long served as a banquet hall. Back in the day, however, it was also a gym. It could return to that function. The building, with some renovation, could house a revived recreation department.

With its proximity to the village and Pemberton Apartments, it is an ideal location for senior services, including the meal site, currently located in the basement of the Grange. Or it could be the site of additional senior housing. It could serve family gatherings or civic groups, as it has for years. It is on a bus line, and it is near the school. Both the building and its acre of land, located right smack in the middle of town, offer many possibilities. They need to be fully discussed and considered. But those possibilities disappear if we do not secure the property and buy it.

And that is what is being asked of voters on April 28. Take the first step and purchase the Holy Ghost property for $800,000. There is also money for renovation, once we have determined what that renovation should be.

I know you have lots of questions. How much will this cost? By my calculation, the PAC purchase price, mortgaged over 25 years, will add 2.5 cents to the tax rate, which is less than $11 a year for a median house valued at $425,000. Improvements to the fire station would add 7 cents, which is less than $30 a year for a median house. But those numbers assume that in the years ahead, this council and others won’t find ways to offset those costs. And in 2021, we will finish paying for Melrose School, which accounts for 11 cents on the current tax rate.

There are also questions about other town facilities should we agree to fund these initiatives. What about the ambulance barn at Knowles Court? Or the Grange, where seniors meet now? Jamestowners who grew up playing basketball at the East Ferry rec center may ask why we need to move it. Performing arts aficionados wonder if the rec center can become a place for them. And what about the golf course building?

I have my own answers to these questions and more, as does our town administrator. But the answers must come from the community, because these facilities will serve all of us. They are investments in our future. I urge you to support them and support making this wonderful town just that much better.

The author is the vice president of the Town Council.

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