Shoreham voters reject town office building options

SHOREHAM — A majority of Shoreham voters on Tuesday decided to take a pass on two different options for building new town offices, instead electing to do “none of the above.”
That decision volleys the town-office-expansion issue onto the desk of the selectboard, which will spend the coming months deciding whether to fashion a project more modest than the $556,000 and $1,070,000 plans, both of which failed to garner enough support on Tuesday.
“The selectboard had never really taken ownership of the issue,” board Chairman Paul Saenger said after the votes had been tallied. “Now (the issue) is ours.”
Shoreham Town Clerk Amy Douglas reported 315 people turned out at the polls during Australian ballot voting on Tuesday. Here’s how they voted:
• Ninety-five people supported a plan to erect a new 2,128-square-foot office building, with community meeting room, on land behind the current town clerk’s office, which would have been removed. The new building would have accommodated the town clerk and treasurer, a 300-square-foot vault, an office for listers, and working space for the auditors, planning commission and zoning administrator, according to a pre-election informational flyer sent by the town to local homes.
The plan was to cost $556,000, a sum town officials said would be defrayed by a combined total of $381,504 in insurance proceeds from the Newton Academy fire and funds that have been accumulating in a municipal office savings account that voters have been building for the past several years. That would have left a balance of $174,496 for taxpayers to cover, which would have translated into an extra $28.17 in property taxes annually for a homestead valued at $100,000 over the life of a five-year bond, or $9.03 annually over then life of a 20-year bond.
• Sixty-seven people supported building a reproduction of the former Newton Academy, a 200-year-old structure that was destroyed by a lightening strike last April, just as a local group was making headway in restoring it.
The 5,130-square-foot, two-story building would have offered the town offices the same space allowance (on the first floor) as option one. The second floor would have included a full kitchen, meeting room, stage and an auditorium that would be used for community events and rented out for private functions.
The Newton Academy rebuild was estimated at $1,070,000, an amount that officials said would be lessened by a combined total of $601,801. Those savings are derived from Newton Academy insurance funds; the municipal office savings account; Newton Academy Restoration Association funds; and state and federal grants that had been earmarked for the academy restoration but could have been rededicated to the rebuild.
This would have left $469,199 for the town to absorb, which would add $41.12 in property taxes annually to a homestead valued at $100,000 over the life of 10-year bond, or $24.84 annually over the life of a 20-year bond.
• But the winning option proved to be “neither of the above,” which garnered a hefty majority of 151 tallies. There were two spoiled ballots.
Saenger said he believes many voters were concerned about the costs of both projects.
“What I heard from voters was, ‘We should do it for less money,’” Saenger said.
He added the selectboard members recognize the need to address the space crunch in the current town office building, erected almost 50 years ago as a one-person set-up with one typewriter and one phone.
“We need a bigger vault and we need more work space,” Saenger said. “We’ll address it.”
The board will have, at its disposal, the $147,000 that has accrued in the town office reserve fund, along with $234,500 in insurance funds related to the Newton Academy fire.
But the town will not receive an additional amount of around $200,000 in combined insurance and grant-related money that had been available exclusively for a Newton Academy rebuild.
That money will have to be returned to the local, state and federal granting agencies in wake of the defeat of “option two.”
Susan MacIntire, president of the Newton Academy Restoration Corp., said she is disappointed voters didn’t opt for the bigger project, which she believes would have been a more lasting, community-oriented structure.
MacIntire said she is done trying to advance Newton Academy as a community center, a project that she and her late husband Wilson championed for more than a decade.
“I have been fighting the fight for long enough,” MacIntire said.
She received more than $9,000 in Newton Academy-related contributions in her husband’s name after he died early this year. MacIntire plans to now direct that money toward ongoing maintenance of Shoreham’s community tennis courts, another local project that Wilson MacIntire spearheaded.
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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