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It’s Official: Latest Public Works Facility Proposal Will be on November Ballot

August 31, 2016 Community, Environment, Government No Comments
The latest plan borrows heavily from the Barkhamsted facility, gets the facility to one level and brings the price below $4 million

The latest plan borrows heavily from the Barkhamsted facility, gets the facility to one level and brings the price below $4 million

By John Fitts 

CANTON — With a 4-1 vote Wednesday, selectmen officially voted to put a $3.8 million proposal to build a new Public Works facility at the current site on the Nov. 8 ballot.

The plan calls for the final design, construction, construction and equipping of an approximate 14,000 square foot facility at the 50 Old River site as well as partial demolition of existing facilities, lowering the ball field on site for floodplain mitigation, and potentially improving the existing access road that serves as both the roadway and Farmington River Trail. The proposal is broad enough to include other improvements, such as formal river access, should there be sufficient funds or other income sources, such as grants.

Town officials said the plans are conceptual in nature, with the ability to tweak details in the final construction.

Approximately $75,000 would be used to cover costs associated with project selling municipal bonds, the town’s way of borrowing funds and paying back the project over time.

According to documents released before the vote, the first year payment would be the highest at $328,875 and raise taxes .3 mills, or a $72 increase for the “average” homeowner. Payments would then decrease over the 20-year payoff time, according to the town.

After years of attempting to find a new location for the facility and failed referendums, the Board of Selectmen has discussed rebuilding at the current site since January. The proposal was forwarded by town staff after they were instructed to re-evaluate what could be done at the current site a few months earlier.

On Wednesday, first selectman Leslee Hill said she was approached by town staff shortly after taking office.

“More could be done there than previously thought and that was a game changer,” she said.

Still, the proposal surprised many people, particularly since a previous consultant stated that floodplain “mitigation” could not be done on site. Town officials said new information showed that it could be done. The new proposal suggested building the facility closer to Route 179 and constructing a new access road.

More recently the conceptual plan, with the help of Fuss and O’Neill, was modified further. (Earlier this summer, selectmen voted to allocate $25,000 to work with the company and further refine the plan). The latest plan calls for a 25-foot high, one-story building with 11,500 square feet of storage space, 2,640 square feet of office space, a new generator, a new salt shed, revamped parking and relocated fueling station.

The town spent some time this summer exploring the nearly 40 acres of the “Satan’s Kingdom” property on Route 44 but their appraisal-based offer to purchase the land for $670,000 was rejected by the owners, who were asking $1.2 million.

As seems to happen with every proposal for a new facility, this one has also generated a fair amount of controversy.

At a public hearing earlier this summer, many residents spoke out against the idea to stay at the current site near the Farmington River, stating that the plan left no room for future growth, was short-sighted and compromised recreation potential.

Since then, some residents have supported the idea but a core group continues to fight the proposal. The Permanent Municipal Building Committee, the group tasked with finding a new site, has spoken against the idea as have two former selectmen.

Some residents have formed a Political Action Committee entitled Not on Our River.

On Wednesday, some of those residents spoke again.

Gil Small asked some questions about the plan and praised town officials for continuing to work on the efficiency and price of the facility but he also again voiced his opinion that the site is wrong. He said the signs around town Garage Yes, But Not on Our River’ were phrased that way because they do support the need for a new facility.

Small also urged selectmen to re-evaluate other sites. He said the reduced size of the facility compared to other proposals could open up new possibilities.

At least three other residents spoke against the proposal.

Jim Grant, a Collinsville resident since 1969 urged selectmen to reconsider.

“I’ve been in the town a long time and I think this is one of the worst decision I’ve seen in this town,” he said.

While the town garage referendums date back to 2010 and the search for a new site to at least 1990, Kathy Munroe said she felt the town has not taken adequate time to consider such a down-sized facility. She said it was getting “pushed” on the ballot, a measure she called “objectionable.”

Most selectmen, however, stayed to the sentiments that many of them have expressed in the past several months – let the voters decide in November.

“To me it does come back to letting people in the town of Canton vote,” Kandrysawtz said.

Hill said the project, like “everything in life” involves some compromise but she also called the plan a “reasonable, suitable option.”

Hill also contended that the change in size was not significant enough to significantly change factors, such as site work,  at other locations.

“This is a smaller facility but it not so much smaller that other sites we looked at that had extensive site work would suddenly be viable,” she said.

At the request of Selectmen Larry Minichiello, Public Works Director Robert Martin also said a few words. He also urged people to respect each other during the debate, thanked people for supporting the department and asked people to voice their preference.

“It’s a beautiful community,” he said. “Respect each other and please vote.”

During the meeting, several comments also referenced some of the discussion from the previous week.

Small also referenced a comment made a week earlier when resident Lans Perry spoke against the Not on Our River group, and at one point referenced some people on certain streets in town as “Chablis-swilling elite.”

“I’ve already had a bottle of Chablis given to me and I’d like people to understand I don’t want any more,” Small said.

Several selectmen also referenced comments from the previous week and while no names were mentioned it was clear from their demeanor that they failed to see much humor in the situation.

“I would like to keep this respectful in tone and avoid personal attacks on other citizens and public officials,” Hill said at the beginning of the meeting.

Later in the discussion, selectmen Tom Sevigny, the one who voted against the project, said, “I hope we do not digress to personal attacks and personal innuendo,” and added that he felt the debate did just that the previous week as well as during previous proposals.

Fellow selectman Beth Kandrysawtz and other town officials also echoed his sentiments that she hopes debate remains civil.

Below are some of the documents released by the town before Wednesday’s vote. Designed to be released ahead of setting a referendum question, after which the town can not use municipal resources to “advocate” for the referendum.

In the documents, the town provides its perspective to several commonly asked questions, such as why the proposal isn’t at 51 River Road, how the river will be protected, and more.

More of the town’s documents can be found at http://www.townofcantonct.org/news/?FeedID=1195


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