First Selectman Ellen Scalettar will be calling an ad hoc committee to look at the different facility studies done in the past 20 years or so, and to determine how to move forward with the use of municipal buildings in the center of town.
The police department, housed in what until the 1960s served as the town’s elementary school, has long outgrown its facility, but in order to update the police facility, the Recreation Department needs to move its fitness rooms in the Center Building to the former firehouse. That can only happen once the fire department removes its equipment that is still stored there to the new firehouse. To do that the proposed shed at the back of the firehouse needs to be erected.
All of these plans have been drawn up, some of them several years ago, and each of the departments involved is ready to move if there wasn’t the pesky little money problem.
In a joint meeting of the Boards of Finance and Selectmen in February, Finance Director Anthony Genovese in a presentation showed how the town has maxed out its bonding debt. Should it bond for more debt at this point, it would risk losing its Aaa bond rating, resulting in less favorable rates for years to come, he said.
Long-term debt: The town carries a $28.6 million debt load for projects such as the 1996 Beecher addition, the new firehouse, open space acquisitions (other than the Country Club), the oil spill remediation behind Town Hall, the Beecher roof, and now the Public Works facility. The debt for the current Beecher renovation and for the purchase of the Country Club is held in short-term notes.
In addition, the town carries a share ($13.3 million) of the Amity renovation, bringing the total debt to over $40 million. Budgeted for debt service next year is $2.6 million plus $1.4 million for the Amity debt.
Projects: Projects under consideration for bonding are a radio system for emergency responders ($1 million); the renovation of the former firehouse (1.3 million), renovation of the police facility in two phases ($4.9 million).
Most recently, the town got news from the state that Genovese’s application for $500,000 from the state Small Town Economic Assistance Program (STEAP) for the old firehouse was approved. This is in addition to $500,000 the state approved three years ago for the police department.
“I am so pleased to receive this significant state grant,” Scalettar said when she heard about the firehouse grant, thanking both the Governor and the state delegation for supporting the project. The money will help the town sort out plans for the former firehouse, in order to create more needed community, meeting and recreational space in the Town’s center, she said.
Governor Dannel Malloy said the grant is to improve the quality of life for residents in smaller communities while also strengthening public spaces and business districts. “These funds help towns throughout our state grow and remain competitive, and we’re proud to provide this support today so we can all deliver a brighter tomorrow.”
According to plans drawn up under the administration of the late Ed Sheehy, the fitness facility would move into the downstairs area of the old firehouse, while the upstairs will have a meeting room. At the time, a study came to the conclusion that it would not be economically viable for a commercial spot such as a coffee shop to open in the center of town, but First Selectman Ellen Scalettar said she would be open to revisiting that issue. She also mentioned sidewalks from the high school to the center as an important safety feature.
By Bettina Thiel – Woodbridge Town News Correspondent