The Prudential Committee meeting on Wednesday was standing-room only for a discussion of the possible purchase of land on Main Street for a new fire station.
WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — The body that governs that town's Fire District on Wednesday affirmed that it is close to signing a purchase-and-sales agreement on a Main Street parcel it is eyeing for a new fire station.
But before a standing-room only crowd at the current firehouse, Prudential Committee member Edward B. Briggs emphasized that the district has not executed such an agreement and will engage the taxpayers before it moves forward with plans to build the new facility.
"We have no intentions to proceed with a quick build," said Briggs, filling in for Chairman John J. Notsley, who is out of town.
Briggs said the district is negotiating an agreement to purchase 3.7 acres on Main Street just east of the former Agway building. The property is owned by the estate of Kurt Lehovic, who was negotiating with the district on the parcel before his death last February, Briggs said.
He characterized the negotiations as being in their final stages, and said the district had negotiated a "favorable" price, but he declined to give any more specifics on the advice of counsel.
Once the negotiations are ironed out, the district plans to use the commonwealth's State House Note program to finance the purchase until it can hold a special meeting of the district to approve the note.
Any large expenditure such as land acquistion or — down the road — a construction bond would require a vote of all the district's registered voters, either in its regular annual meeting in May or at a special meeting. Although the district operates outside the regular governance of the town, all registered voters in the town are also voters in the district, Briggs explained.
If and when the district purchases the land, it will destroy the rental houses on the property and prepare the site for construction, Briggs said. The tenants already have been served eviction notices by the Lehovic estate, he said.
"In the meantime, the committee will pursue grants, donations and there's a real possibility with the economy being what it is that there may be another round of federal funding for shovel-ready projects," Briggs said. "We want to be in position if that happens.
"We have no intention of buying the property and putting up buildings on it right away."
The total cost for the project, Briggs said, is estimated by the committee to be between $8 million and $9 million, including land acquisition and construction. And if it is financed on a 30-year bond, the effect on the fire district's portion of a property tax bill would be "insignificant," he said.
Briggs opened the meeting by suggesting that interested voters get in touch with Fire Chief Craig Pedercini, who can show citizens a PowerPoint presentation he gave in September at a meeting of the town's Finance Committee to explain the need for a new station.
Briggs said that Sept. 20 meeting gave the Prudential Committee reason to believe the project would be supported in town.
"A lot of good questions were asked, and at the end, we were very encouraged with the comments made," Briggs said. "People who hadn't given it much thought saw what the situation was and recognized we had a need."
But a comment at the September meeting sparked one of the few contentious moments at Wednesday's meeting.
In September, Notsley responded to criticism that the Fire District was making plans to build a new station "under the radar," since its regular annual meetings are lightly attended compared to town meetings.
Notsley said the Prudential Committee was very upfront.
As reported in iBerkshires.com that night:
In 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010 and 2011 [the Fire District's study] was in the Town Report," he said. "If you didn't read it, tough.
"Our meetings are posted at Town Hall. We've never had an executive session. Charlie made a big deal about the fact that no one shows up at our annual meeting. We think it's because we're doing a good job."
The "tough" comment was cited in an email that circulated prior to Wednesday's meeting, and Pedercini said its use in the email took Notsley's comment out of context.
Committee member Edward Briggs agreed with several suggestions made at the meeting:
• To liaison with other town committees, including Finance.
• To appeal to Williams College, which gives payment in lieu of taxes to the district.
• Collaborate with the Police Department on a single building, although he and Fire Chief Craig Pedercini were not sure that was workable.
Finance Committee member Dan Gendron rose to take responsibility for the email and defended its use of the quote.
"It shocked me when he said 'tough,'" Gendron said. "What he should have said was: We need to do a better job getting the word out."
Briggs attempted to lighten the mood.
"It was probably an inappropriate word, but a lot of us here know John Notsley, and it's probably better than some of the other words he could have used," Briggs said.
Briggs did say that the Prudential Committee would redouble its efforts on the public relations front, and he hoped he saw crowds similar to the two dozen at Wednesday's meeting at future meetings.
While a special meeting is a possibility in the next few months, the Fire District also will hold its annual meeting in May on a date to be determined. While it hopes to meet on its customary fourth Tuesday in May, that date might change if the commonwealth needs to call a special election this spring to replace Sen. John Kerry, explained Prudential Committee Clerk/Treasurer J. Paul Dube.
There were several ideas suggested at Wednesday's meeting for the committee to consider going forward that the committee found amenable for reducing costs and collaborating.
One suggestion that will not be considered is a substation in South Williamstown to house a tanker truck in an area not served by water lines. The district considered such a plan and found it to be unworkable, committee member Edward M. McGowan said.
While space for a new tanker truck is one of the driving forces behind the need for a new station, putting that tanker in a substation on the south end of town does not make sense, McGowan said.
"If we build in South Williamstown, the majority of our firefighters are right here [in the center of town]," he said. "They would have to drive to South Williamstown and get the fire truck.
"You have to build some kind of station ... that's expensive. You have to equip it with at least one truck. You have to heat the station. You have to insure the station. You have to maintain the station.
"And you still have the jam here."
One centrally located station in the center of town would solve the district's problems and best serve all residents, the committee said.