On Oct. 15, there will be a special Fire District meeting at Williamstown Elementary to vote on the purchase of the ideal site for a new, and necessary, fire station. The meeting will be at 7:00pm and is open to every registered voter in Williamstown. Registration of voters will begin at 6:30 p.m.
The District's current station lacks the space needed for improved training and fire apparatus that can help us better serve the District. A new station would allow the Fire District to meet the needs of the town now and for many years to come. The window of opportunity is closing to purchase the only available property that meets the future needs of the District. For this reason, the District must act now.
A purchase of the site requires $575,000 and would lead to an approximately nine percent increase in the fire District tax over the next two years. The vote on Oct. 15 is only to authorize purchase of the property. This vote is only phase one of a multiyear plan to build a new station that will require future votes and a close involvement between the District and voters.
Your attendance is crucial because an article approving the purchase requires the support of 2/3 of voters. The purchase of this property is necessary for the Fire District to move forward with planning and to ensure the quality of service that Williamstown residents deserve.
Please attend the meeting to show your support for the future of your fire department.
Your fire department needs your vote.
To see if the District will vote to authorize the Prudential Committee to acquire, by gift, purchase or eminent domain, for general District purposes, a parcel of land and improvements thereon, located at 562-580 Main Street, in the Town of Williamstown, identified on Assessors Map 121 as Lot 32, and being described in deeds recorded with the Berkshire Registry of Deeds – Central District in Book 683, Page 368; Book 683, Page 372; and Book 683, Page 374; currently or formerly owned by the estate of Kurt Lehovec, and to demolish and/or remove the existing buildings and improvements currently upon said property and effectuate the clean-up, preparation and securing of the property for future use; to raise and appropriate, transfer from available funds, and/or borrow a sum of money for the acquisition of said property and improvements thereon and costs related thereto and with respect to the demolition and/or removal of the existing buildings and improvements currently upon said property and the clean-up, preparation and securing of the property for future use; and to authorize the District Treasurer, with the approval of the Prudential Committee, to issue any bonds or notes that may be necessary for that purpose, as authorized by the provisions of G.L. c. 44, or any other enabling authority; and further, to authorize the Prudential Committee to enter into all agreements and execute any and all instruments deemed necessary to effectuate the purposes of this article; or take any action in relation thereto.
Q: What are we voting about on Oct. 15?
A: To purchase the property at 562-580 Main St. The property is currently occupied by several distressed residential properties, with no significant commercial activity. The property is zoned as "light business," and using it for Fire District activities would remove only approximately $5,000 per year from the town's tax base. This vote does not in any way address the building of a fire station on this property; further vote(s) will be needed to authorize the construction of a fire station.
Q: How much will voting "yes" increase tax rates?
A: A "yes" vote would increase tax rates by approximately 5 cents per thousand each year for two years. This increase would cover the interest on the loan. Repayment of principal would increase tax rates by a total of 10 cents per thousand for about 6 years. Of note, the district recently decreased tax rates by 12 cents per thousand.
Q: Why does the Fire District need this property?
A: This is the only available property in town which would meet the needs of the District. It would allow for expansion of the Fire District's services to meet the needs of the town now, and for many years to come. The District's current property is very small, and does not even permit sufficient parking for firefighters, let alone for training activities and storage of additional fire apparatus. The new property would allow space for additional apparatus, such as a water tanker for fighting fires outside the town's hydrant district, as well as indoor and outdoor training of firefighters.
Q: Has the district considered purchasing any other properties?
A: The District has worked with an independent consulting organization since planning began in 2007 to assess the needs of the district and what properties in town could address those needs. In short, this is the only property which will meet the needs of the District. Other properties considered since 2007 have included: The Photech property at the northern end of Cole Avenue; the former town garage site on Water Street; 101 North St., formerly La Country Restaurant; the Chenail Field site directly north of Chopstick's Restaurant; 295 Main, across from Hoosac Bank; the Williams College-owned site on the corner of Church and Southworth Streets; and the former Agway site at 600 Main St. Each of these properties had significant drawbacks, and none of these properties were able to meet the needs of the District.
Q: What are the advantages of this property?
A: First, the property is centrally located, with the majority of the District's calls within a 2-mile radius. Second, it is a safe location, with adequate lines of site to ensure safe movement of emergency vehicles, and is located away from schools and other areas with children. Third, the property is large enough to meet the needs of the District now and for many years to come, and will allow for storage of additional firefighting vehicles and for the indoor and outdoor training of firefighters.
Q: Are there any downsides to this property?
A: The only significant downside is that portions of the property are located within the 500-year flood plain. Independent experts have evaluated the property, and determined that it can be raised out of the 500-year flood plain, making it a safe location for a fire station and eligible for federal grants for construction. A "yes" vote on Oct. 15 would also authorize use of money the Fire District has already saved to pay for removal of the structures currently on the property, and for fill to raise the land out of the 500-year flood plain.
Q: Is this property large enough for multiple public service agencies, such as the Police Department or Village Ambulance?
A: The answer to this question is not currently clear, as the size of a proposed police station or ambulance base has not been determined. However, analysis of the property by independent experts has indicated that it is unlikely the property is large enough for both the needs of the Fire District and the Police Department.
Voting "yes" on Oct. 15 will give the Fire District the space it needs to continue providing safe, effective, top-notch fire protection and emergency response to the Town now and for years to come. It will not allow for building of a fire station; further vote(s) will be needed to authorize construction. Voting "no" will prevent the Fire District from any expansion of its facilities or services for the foreseeable future.
Chief Craig A. Pedercini is the fire chief for the Williamstown Fire Department.