Prudential Committee Chairman John Notsley and Fire Chief Craig Pedercini review minutes from a prior meeting at Wednesday's meeting.
WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — The Williamstown Fire District is headed for a second special meeting in fewer than two months to decide whether it should buy a 3.7-acre Main Street parcel.
The Prudential Committee, the three-member elected panel that oversees the district, on Wednesday night approved a two-article warrant for a Dec. 3 special Fire District meeting, to be held at 7 p.m. in the Williamstown Elementary School auditorium.
District voters will be asked whether the district can borrow $575,000 to purchase the property at 562-580 Main St. (Route 2) from the estate of Kurt Lehovec. And in a separate article, voters will be asked whether the district should spend up to $300,000 out of its cash reserves to raze five buildings on the property and begin making improvements in preparation for a new fire station.
The two articles are similar to the question that narrowly failed to receive the necessary two-thirds majority vote at an Oct. 15 special Fire District meeting. That night, the vote was 151-94 in favor of the acquisition — a 62 percent margin that fell 13 votes short of the "super majority" needed to acquire real property under Massachusetts law.
The Prudential Committee spent a few weeks crafting warrant articles that it hopes will win the favor of a few more voters at the Dec. 3 meeting.
Perhaps the biggest change is the addition of language in Article 1 that entertains the possibility of a joint public safety building. One of the criticisms raised against the Fire District is that it has pursued a new station unilaterally, without consideration of other capital projects facing the town, including the prospect of a new police station.
"The district will confer with appropriate officials of the Town of Williamstown, regarding combined uses of said property and will fully cooperate in a feasibility study, to be undertaken by the Town of Williamstown, with respect to the possible creation of a joint Public Safety facility," the warrant reads.
The draft warrant considered by the Prudential Committee on Wednesday included the language "feasibility study, to be undertaken and funded by the Town," but the committee was persuaded that such language could be off-putting to some voters.
"One can read that as you'll cooperate as long as the town pays for it," said Andrew Hogeland, a member of the town's Finance Committee and of the town's Public Safety Building Study Committee, which includes a member of the Prudential Committee.
"This basically says we'll help as long as you do it."
Prudential Committee Chairman John Notsley, who has served on Hogeland's public safety building committee, said he feels the Fire District already has expended significant funds on the land in question, including the purchase of appraisals and the funding of a Chapter 21E environmental hazard study.
"We don't want to spend any more money," Notsley said.
Fire District clerk/moderator Corydon Thurston suggested that if the issue of paying for the feasibility study was left out of the motion at the special meeting, the Prudential Committee would have the flexibility to negotiate cost-sharing with the town at a later date. Those negotiations could take into account the money already spent by the district on the property.
"There's some merit in [Hogeland's] comment in that we don't want people to perceive that we're throwing up walls," Thurston said. "At this point, [the phrase 'and funded'] is worth sacrificing to talk about down the road.
"The opportunity to get that piece of land is really crucial."
To echo that point, Prudential Committee member Ed Briggs noted that he had spoken with the district's legal counsel and was told the lawyer "felt strongly there is another interested party" competing for the Lehovec property. The Fire District has a purchase-and-sales agreement that has been extended to Dec. 27 to allow time for the second special meeting.
Hogeland said deleting the words "and funded" would address his concern.
"It might attract more people if you didn't draw a line in the sand," Hogeland said.
Another significant difference between the Dec. 3 warrant and the Oct. 15 meeting is that Article 1 includes the dollar figure. Although the purchase price was announced publicly in June, it was conspicuously absent from the language of the warrant publicizing the Oct. 15 vote.
Also, the Oct. 15 meeting featured one vote on the question of acquisition and demolition. Some have suggested the district stood a better chance of winning approval of the land acquisition if it gave voters the option not to commit to the demolition. The Dec. 3 meeting does that by dividing the issues into separate warrant articles.
Article 2 on the Dec. 3 warrant authorizes the district to spend up to $300,000 from its free cash to "demolish and/or remove existing buildings ... and to effectuate the cleanup preparation and securing of said property."
District officials maintain that the removal of the rental houses — several of which already are vacant — is important from a liability standpoint.
Along those lines, in a separate vote on Wednesday, the Prudential Committee authorized Briggs to solicit price quotes from licensed site professionals to evaluate the five houses for asbestos, lead and other potential contaminants. The committee hopes to use the report of the LSP as part of the scope of services for the bids it solicits for demolition work down the road.
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