EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

August 17, 2011

Selectmen eye new funding plan for fire station

By John Toole

PELHAM — Selectmen are moving toward a special warrant article to build a new fire station, one that could be financed, at least in part, through town fund balances.

The funding mechanism, which would pay for a concrete fire station expected to cost about $3.7 million, would let the station pass on a simple majority vote by town residents.

A majority of voters backed a $3.7 million fire station project in March, but it failed by falling 3 percent shy of the three-fifths voter approval needed for a bond issue.

Last night selectmen discussed whether to fund the project through the town operating budget or a special warrant article.

The unanimous consensus of aldermen was to pursue a warrant article question.

"I think we'd encounter a lot of no votes by virtue of trying to put it in the operating budget," Selectman William McDevitt said. "It could be perceived as trying to do something underhanded."

Others agreed. "I think it's riskier to put it in the budget," Selectman Hal Lynde said.

Selectmen like the financing approach because it takes care of the project in one year, avoiding long-term interest costs.

"The beauty of this," Selectman Ed Gleason said, "once you've absorbed the cost, it's over and done."

The question is expected before voters next March.

No final decision last night. Lots of questions to be answered by officials between now and then, including final project costs and how much of fund balances to tap.

Town Administrator Thomas Gaydos told selectmen officials must determine how much is available from fund balances, but also how much they will be comfortable using.

The state recommends towns maintain some fund balances for funding emergencies, but that is only a recommendation, officials said.

Selectmen said town officials have tapped them in the past for projects or tax relief for property owners.

In other action last night, selectmen were working on 2012 budget recommendations as the town moves toward the next budget cycle.