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Williamstown Fire District Panel OKs 10% Station Cost Cut
By Stephen Dravis, iBerkshires Staff
05:03AM / Thursday, January 26, 2023
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WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — The committee that oversees the Fire District on Wednesday agreed to lower by 10 percent its request to voters to fund a new station on Main Street.
Prudential Committee Chair David Moresi asked his colleagues to hold off on a planned review of the warrant for the Feb. 28 special district meeting to seek borrowing authority to fund the building project.
Instead, Moresi, who also serves on the district's Building Committee, told the three other members of the Prudential Committee in attendance that he would call a special meeting of the panel to approve new warrant article language requesting authority to spend up to $22.5 million on the new station.
That is down from the $25 million figure in an article the committee approved earlier this month.
Moresi told the Prudential Committee that the lower figure reflects the results of an ongoing value engineering process on the project and does not impact the district's commitment to provide a facility that meets the needs of the Fire Department.
It does not indicate any intent to back off on the district's commitment to build a sustainable station in line with a 2021 annual town meeting vote committing the town to a net-zero carbon emissions goal, he said.
Moresi said the sustainability dimension of the project will ultimately add more than $1 million to the bottom line, but "the end result will justify the investment."
After Wednesday's monthly Prudential Committee meeting, Moresi said the $22.5 million figure was the product of continued examination of the project's scope and cost estimates by himself and other members of the Building Committee.
The Prudential Committee members were not informed of his plan to seek a reduction in the project cost before Wednesday's meeting, Moresi said. None of the members present — John Notsley, Alex Steel and Joe Beverly — challenged Moresi on the suggestion or asked for specifics on how he expected to drive down the project's cost.
"I think this shows the town and voters our concern for the expense, and I think it's a step in the right direction," Notsley said. "I think we'll make due with the amounts we obtain at the special meeting, and it will give us a station that sustains us for 50 to 100 years."
A two-thirds vote of the residents attending the Feb. 28 meeting at Williamstown Elementary School will be needed for the district to borrow the funds needed to build the station.
Last week, two members of the Select Board attended a meeting of the district's Building Committee to encourage the panel to drive down the "ask" to voters. Questions also have been raised in the last week on social media about the potential cost of the project.
One of the Select Board members who went to the Building Committee last week, Chair Hugh Daley, spoke to the Prudential Committee on Wednesday evening.
"I'm glad to hear you guys are looking at costs," Hugh Daley told the panel.
Daley asked the district to be clear to voters in the outreach leading to the Feb. 28 vote about the relationship between the town and the Fire District, a separate taxing authority apart from town government.
Unlike the regional school district, which gets its annual operating budget through an assessment that is OK'd by town meeting in the spring, the Fire District is completely independent from the town. As a matter of convenience, property owners receive one property tax bill, but that bill has separate lines for the town (including the school budget assessment) and the Fire District.
All residents of the town also are members of the district and, if registered to vote, eligible to participate in both annual Fire District meetings in the spring and the special district meeting on Feb. 28.
Daley stressed to the Prudential Committee that while he knows the department needs a new station, he is concerned about the impact on local taxpayers if the cost is too high.
"Functionally, you're the left pocket, we're the right pocket, but it's all the same pair of pants," Daley said.
Moresi, the principal of Moresi and Associates development of North Adams, said the $22.5 million number he proposed for the special district meeting warrant still is a high-end estimate and that he would push to continue driving down costs.
"That [$22.5 million] does not take into account further anticipated cost reductions, which may incorporate gifts and grants," Moresi said.
After the meeting, Moresi said the Fire District has not heard an answer from Williams College in response to a request for financial support for the station project.
The college's Board of Trustees discussed that request at its October meeting, a college spokesperson said in the fall. The trustees met last weekend and are not scheduled to meet again until mid-April, six weeks after the special Fire District meeting.
Williams is the town's single largest taxpayer due to its non-exempt landholdings, but much of its property and buildings are tax exempt. In light of that fact, the school long has had a payment in lieu of taxes agreement with the Fire District to support operating expenses of the town's call volunteer fire department.
Williams also gave financial gifts of $400,000 to support the Williamstown Police station that opened in 2019 and $5 million to support the infrastructure needs at Mount Greylock Regional School, which completed an addition renovation project in 2018.
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