From left, councilors James Mason, Dan Ankeles and Kathy Wilson vote to accept the $13.5 million fire station proposal after the $15 million proposal failed. (Hannah LaClaire / The Times Record)

BRUNSWICK — Plans to replace Brunswick’s aging Central Fire Station sat on the back burner for years, former councilor Doug Rice told the town council Monday, and it is high time to “give (firefighters) what they need and move on.”

Fielding overwhelming agreement from community members during a public hearing Monday, Brunswick town councilors approved $13.5 million in funding for a new station, rather than sending the question to voters. 

However, councilors narrowly voted against a $15 million station plan, despite a large community show of support. Councilor Steve Walker said he was “yet to be convinced” that the $1.5 million dollar price difference would result in an equal increase in public safety.

“I think the $13.5 gives us a very modern station,” he said. “I think we are doing right by our public safety folks and our taxpayers, who I was also elected to think of.”

“If the taxes go up, I think it’s worth it,” resident Elizabeth Ernst, told councilors. “It’s for the health and safety of the whole community.”

Richard Mersereau, another Brunswick resident, said he is “not in favor of higher taxes, but …. willing to pay for something we need.”

Councilor Christopher Watkinson agreed and said that as the town gets further into the budget season it is going to be time to “start tightening our belts,” which often means cutting positions and neglecting important infrastructure like road paving.

The difference between $13.5 million and $15 million may not seem like much, he said, but if it ultimately means saving a municipal job, “I think those are concessions we can make right now.”

Everyone seemed to agree that this was the right time to move forward with the push for a new station. Councilors chose not to send the funding to a referendum after multiple residents, including Gene Johnson, said it was high time to move on and “take care of our boys.”

The $13.5 million project includes an estimated $11 million station and the cost of land, as well as a roughly $300,000 bay that had initially been taken out during chief an earlier price cut. The project will mean a 2.1 percent tax increase and a $79.95 annual tax payment for a property assessed at $200,000.

“Don’t build cheap,” business owner Nelson Moody cautioned councilors. “Buy cheap, buy twice.”

The new station is slated to replace the current, 100-year-old facility, which has myriad safety, practicality and code issues.

The deficiencies in the building include a lack of a sprinkler system, leaking floors, small vehicle bays that were built for horse-drawn fire fighting equipment, no storage and living quarters that sometimes double as office spaces, among others that have been documented for more than 20 years.

In 2017, a task force was developed to find a location for the new station and review programming needs, but when the proposal for a new station came before the town council last fall, members balked at the price tag, which, at $13 million, was about $4 million over budget. Reduced by roughly $2 million,

Chief Kenneth Brillant said that most of the cuts he made to the proposal were in storage and square footage and were done because he needed to make cuts, not because he thought the areas were unnecessary. The bay was eliminated and the training room was downsized, and a museum area intended to display some of that 100-year-old station’s antiques was also cut.

These remaining two sections could be added into the ordinance as “add alternates,” Eldridge said earlier, in which, in the case of bids under budget, certain items could be added back in while keeping the total costs within the budgeted amount.  

Millett said Monday she was “very very disappointed” with the council’s decision to vote against the $15 million proposal.

Councilor Kathy Wilson said she also wished it had gone differently.

I’m not sure I can live here forever, but while I’m here I’m going to do everything I can” to make this the best place to live for future generations, she said.

“This town is going to grow, we’re going to need it,” she said in a previous meeting.

The fire department has 32 career firefighters and is operating with the same staffing level for about 20 years, chief Brillant told the council during a recent budget presentation. The building has been designed with increased staff in mind, and this year the department has asked the town for an additional $300,000 to cover four more firefighters and an inspector.

“You are going to bring firefighters in by giving them a place of beauty to work in,” resident Debbie Richards said during the hearing. “It’s not that much of an increase on our property taxes,” she said, and “the citizens will support it” for a group of people who “go running into a building most of us are going to be running out of.”

While some were unhappy with the vote, the decision to move the station forward was one councilor Dan Ankeles said they could be proud of, for “breaking decades of inaction.”

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