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December 3, 2012

New police station for Salem?

Salem selectmen review capital improvement projects

SALEM — Selectmen last night began reviewing a five-year capital improvement plan that includes an $8.7 million bond to construct a new police station, but no money for fire station upgrades.

The board also a withdrew a proposal for an $800,000 sewer and water line extension on Pond Street following strong opposition from residents unhappy with footing the hook-up cost.

Although the police and fire station proposals were included in the plan Town Manager Keith Hickey presented to selectmen in June, the latest proposal only provides the fire department with money for vehicles and not stations.

Board Vice Chairman James Keller expressed support last night for construction of a public safety complex that accommodates both the police and fire departments, though there is no formal plan for such an idea.

“I won’t stop fighting for it,” he said.

Selectman Everett McBride Jr. agreed the town needs a new complex for both departments.

“I think it needs to be combined,” he said.

Hickey’s earlier capital improvement plan included $3.5 million for a West End fire station to be built in 2017. The proposal also called for spending $1 million in 2016 to buy land for a new central fire station, but construction costs were not included in the five-year plan.

But cutting funding for fire stations is no surprise to selectmen or fire Chief Kevin Breen as Salem strives to cope with rising costs. Breen has said fire station proposals have been debated for years, but rejected because of the cost. A West End fire station was first proposed in the 1980s, he said.

This year, it was again decided that plans for new fire stations could wait.

Selectmen received a surprise in October when they were informed that higher-than-anticipated health insurance costs meant they suddenly must cut $282,000 from a $37 million town budget they approved two months earlier.

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