Deliberative Session: Fire house upgrade ‘No. 1 priority’

Town officials respond to a question during the Milford Town Deliberative Session on Saturday From left are, Matt Lydon, chairman of the town budget committee, town moderator Peter Basiliere and town finance director Jack Sheehy.

MILFORD – Cancer is not usually an issue that comes up at town meetings, but at the Milford Deliberative Session Saturday, fire officials told voters that cancer prevention is a major reason Milford needs an expanded and renovated fire station.

A $3.68 million project is now on the ballot for the March 13 election,

“I’m doing everything I can to make my men safe,” Fire Chief Jack Kelly told meeting attendees, and the prevention of occupational cancers has become a major goal.

More and more products are made with synthetic materials that are considered carcinogens, and the fire house, built in 1974, has no decontamination area and no facilities that would allow firefighters to wash and change clothes.

Milford Fire Capt. Ken Flaherty told people the meeting that firefighters have an especially high risk for testicular cancer and mesothelioma, an occupational cancer related to asbestos exposure.

Both the selectmen and the budget committee unanimously support the plans, and because it will require long-term debt, the bond needs a 60 percent vote to pass.

Selectmen’s Chairman Mark Fougere called the project the board’s No. 1 capital priority, and Budget Committee Chairman Matt Lydon noted the building’s “major deficiencies.”

Those deficiencies also include a lack of locker room space for firefighters to keep a change of clothes, a meeting room that’s not big enough to fit all the staff during training, no fire sprinkler system, and an aging and inadequate heating system that means the captain’s office needs a portable heater.

There is little parking on the site, and inadequate drains mean cleaning materials from washing apparatus go into the sanitary sewer system.

Plans call for the five bays to remain, a sixth bay added, and the rest of the School Street structure demolished, with a two-story building added. For an average house valued at $243,000, the tax impact would be $54.48.

Flaherty said people ask if the School Street property is still the best location.

“Nearly 65 percent of the calls are within 1 mile of the station,” he said, and it would cost an additional million dollars more to relocate.

The firehouse discussion took only about 30 minutes out of an unusually short meeting that wrapped up after four hours.

Pumpkin Festival

There will be a special meeting on Feb. 12 to talk about the Pumpkin Festival, which seems to be in jeopardy, because there’s no one to take over its planning.

“It’s part of our DNA. part of our heritage,” said Selectman Fougere expressing confidence in the town’s ability to continue it as well as disappointment with “a lot of negative comments thrown at” the Milford Improvement Team, which has decided not to organize the event this year.

An amendment from Tim Finan to remove “holiday planting and decorations” from the Pumpkin Festival article passed, and Bender said the $600 for those expenses can come from the operating budget.

Along with the fire station renovation and Pumpkin Festival articles, spending on a sidewalk plow for the DPW is a major issue, because voters rejected the lease-purchase twice, in 2015 and 2016. It was not on the ballot last year.

“Sidewalks are a very important part of our transportation network,” public works director Rick Riendeau told residents. “We are obligated to keep the sidewalks open” and could face litigation if they are not maintained.

Retired DPW director Robert Courage urged Riendeau to buy a high-quality machine that will last.

Operating budget

Voters also moved to the town ballot a town operating budget of $14 million that is about $87,000 more than last year’s.

Town Administrator Mark Benson called the town’s financial status “very strong,” with a $2.9 million fund balance (surplus) at the end of 2017.

If all warrant articles pass, overall spending will decrease by 4.1 percent, resulting in a tax rate of $6.38, down from $6.65, he said.

Adding to the budget this year were wage increases, the salaries of two additional full-time firefighters and debt service on the road bond approved last year.

A $200,0000 reduction in health insurance costs he attributed to employee wellness campaigns and encouraging employees to be smart insurance shoppers.

The default budget is slightly more than the operating budget, and resident Steve Takacs asked if selectmen “just throw out a number to feel better about the budget.”

Finance Director Jack Sheehy explained how the default budget is calculated, saying “it is not driven by what we want, but by what the law says.”

Paying for July Fourth fireworks is often an issue, and selectmen are not supporting the $8,500 article. The budget committee’s Paul Bartolomucci made an emotional plea “to fund the culminating activity that celebrates the birth of this nation.”

After the meeting, selectmen met to take new votes on the 31 articles. Article 29, to add $25,000 to the Keyes Park Expansion capital reserve fund, now has the board’s support with a 3-2 vote.

Selectman Gary Daniels spoke for what is now the minority, saying recreation is a lower priority than snowplows, bridge repair and other items that will be on the March 13 ballot.

Fougere changed his vote on Article 30, to add $20,000 to the conservation land fund, joining Linda Dudziak, which brings that tally to 2-3 against.

Bartolomucci spoke in favor of the Keyes park article, telling selectmen “we are underfunding our senior citizens.”

And Finan told the board not adding to the park fund makes no sense since selectmen have control over whether the money is eventually spent.

“There will always be something more important than recreation,” he said.

Only about 50 people were at the meeting to start, not including selectmen, budget committee members and other officials.

Kathy Cleveland can be reached at 673-3100 or kcleveland@cabinet.com.

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