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Town Garage Dominates Local Political Discussions but Races Certain to Boost Participation On the Issue

November 3, 2014 Government, Local Elections, Politics, Referendum, State Capitol No Comments

For election day coverage visit http://cantoncompass.com/2014/140824/november-2014-election-coverage-canton/

By John Fitts 

The current Public Works Facility viewed from Old River Road parking lot.

The current Public Works Facility viewed from Old River Road parking lot.

There’s no doubt that debate over the proposed Public Works facility has largely dominated town politics over the past several weeks — at least in public discussions, letters to the editor, lawn signs, social media and web sites.

It’s the political races, however, including the 8th Senate District, governor, U.S Representative and others, that could result in a greater number weighing in on the garage issue. Some say the garage issue could even help boost participation in those races as well.

In May of 2013, town voters, by a tally of 814 to 454, defeated a proposal to bond up to $5.4 million for a garage and related site work and costs at 325 Commerce Drive.

The issue was heated that time around and the garage, in addition to a vote on road funding brought out more voters than some recent budget referendums alone but fewer than 20 percent of those who could voted. A total of 18.21 percent of those qualified to vote at the time weighed in on the garage issue.

Presidential elections often bring the highest participation but historically speaking even those elections that include races such as governor. U.S. Congress and and state senate bring out many more voters than referendums held at other times of the year. In November of 2010,for example, turnout was 68.6 percent, according to town records.

Republican First Selectman Richard Barlow said he certainly encourages everyone to cast a ballot Tuesday.

“We want everyone to get out and vote for all the elected offices,” Barlow said. “It certainly has a great impact on the state and the general assembly.”

Democratic Town Committee Chairman Tom Sevigny, who is also a selectman, also urges people to vote. He’d love 100 percent turnout but knows it’s not realistic. He said he does think the interest in the garage could result in an even higher turnout than there would be otherwise.

“That’s the whole thing. Get out and vote,” he said. “If we can get to 75 or 80 percent that would be great.”

What the actual garage vote on Nov. 4, 2014 involves is a yes or no to whether the town should bond $4.78 million for the A new Public Works Facility at 325 Commerce Drive, including the structure, site work, land acquisition and related costs. The price includes $50,000 for demolition and site work at the current garage location near the Farmington River. For the first year of the bond, officials estimate the impact to the owner of an “average” home assessed at $238,832 would be $96 for the year.

Several weeks ago, some opponents to the plan offered their own idea for a combined fire station and public works facility at 51 River Road. The plan was initially brought to town officials by state Sen. Kevin Witkos, who said he brought it on behalf a group of former and current officials who wished to remain anonymous.

A cover sheet, with the firm name whited out, indicated a $4.735 million for a 19,000 +/- square-foot design-build garage/fire station at 51 River Road, removal of the existing fire station, removal of the existing town garage and two new baseball fields. An accompanying drawing was included and since then two revised drawings were submitted to Canton Compass.

Shortly after the alternate plan was submitted, Frank Borawski, principal at Bloomfield-based PDS Engineering and Construction, which had placed a bid on 325 Commerce Drive, acknowledged to Compass and other media that he had his company draw up plans for some golf buddies.

Since then there has been much back and forth over the alternate plan, its validity, timing of the submittal, when it was first mentioned, accuracy of price, the reputation of the company that drew it, potential zoning issues, whether it meets or addresses potential future needs of both departments, the town’s process and much more. Other debate has focused on the town’s plan and whether it provides the best use of taxpayer funds and the department’s needs.

There’s been at least one web site from advocates of the town’s plan  – http://justthefactscanton.net – and opponents started a Facebook page – https://www.facebook.com/pages/Responsible-Canton-Taxpayers/740363532667584. Endorsements for the town’s Commerce Drive plan have come from the Republican and Democratic Town Committees.

Lou Daniels has backed the alternate proposal. This week he said his main concern is not whether, in the event of a defeat, the town ends up building exactly what’s drawn on the alternate proposal but that officials aren’t looking at the bigger picture to leverage projects. He said they are focused on a site that is expensive and would diminish economic opportunity. He said he feels the board volunteers do a great job but said they are largely not paying enough attention to the concerns of residents and holding enough public hearings along the way.

“I think they have to step back and listen to what taxpayers are saying,” he said.

Daniels, a former elected official, said the town should embrace the alternate proposal and if the town’s plan fails, create a bi-partisan group to take a fresh look.

“They owe it to the public to come up with the best alternative,” he said.

Town officials have argued that the process has been open, exhaustive and includes reports from two engineers that ultimately ruled out 51 River Road.

Barlow said the town did respond after the May 2013 defeat of the proposal and addressed concerns of overall price, lack of an actual bid before that vote and location.

After the defeat the town hired a new consultant, who re-evaluated the Commerce Drive, River Road and Lawton Road sites. The project was put back out to bid earlier this year and contractors were given the option to come up with design, build bids (in which one company does both tasks and can suggest spec alternatives to save money) and propose alternate locations to the town’s preferred 325 Commerce Drive site.

“I’m comfortable that we’ve gone though an open, transparent process to develop the proposal for the town garage at 325 Commerce,” Barlow said.

Barlow said the alternative proposal did not come with price verification, details, any discussion with the fire chief on the potential future needs of the fire department as a whole. The River Road site has been considered before and two firms have deemed it too small, he said.

Despite being anonymous, the proposal was brought forward to the Permanent Municipal Building Committee and staff and numerous issues with the plan were identified, Barlow said.

But opponents of the town’s plan argued it was not adequate or accurate. Daniels feels the alternate proposal was not given serious consideration.

“If it comes at the last hour, you don’t chastise it, you embrace it,” Daniels said.

In his letter to the editor and in previous comments, deputy first selectman Stephen Roberto, said the alternate plan was done by people who know the process, spent money, worked out a strategy and deliberately waited to introduce it. Still, he argues it was considered seriously.

“The town has been asking the public for years to come to us with their ideas for a new Town Garage,” he wrote. “We would have welcomed them with open eyes and open minds. We even gave our due diligence to a recently submitted anonymous plan but it just does not work.”

For more on the town’s plan, visit http://www.townofcantonct.org/news/?FeedID=897. General election information can be found at http://www.townofcantonct.org/news/?FeedID=891.

Many have also sent letters to Canton Compass and some 30 documents relating to the town’s and/or the alternate plan can be found at https://www.scribd.com/collections/4647699/Canton-Public-Works-Facility

Voting takes place from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. at Town Hall, 4 Market St., Collinsville.

Residents can follow voter turnout throughout the day at http://www.townofcantonct.org/news/?FeedID=907 

Please note that Canton Compass is not taking election and referendum related letters after 5 p.m. on Nov. 3. You are still welcome to comment, per the rules below. 

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