Middlebury fire station vote set; impact on property taxes gauged

MIDDLEBURY — The Middlebury Volunteer Fire Department’s quest to upgrade its two fire stations passed two major hurdles early this week, as the town’s development review board gave a thumbs-up to the $4.875 million plan and the selectboard set Sept. 27 as the first of two community-wide votes on the project.
The project, if ultimately approved by voters on Town Meeting Day, would add 8,100 square feet of space onto the southern end of the Seymour Street fire station, in the form of a single-story, four-bay addition.
This construction would require the fire department to purchase some land from the neighboring Middlebury Community House and remove a small yellow cottage from that property.
The plan also calls for extensive renovations to the 1932 and 1978 sections of the station to make it more user-friendly, better insulated and more accessible to the public.
Plans also call for demolition of the East Middlebury station, which would be replaced by a basic, 2,000-square-foot, wood-framed building that would feature two bays, a small bathroom and a 280-square-foot storage facility for the local fire district.
“So far, we’ve seen very good reaction from the public on this, and a quiet reaction, too,” Middlebury selectboard Chairman John Tenny said of the two-station proposal. “We want to make people feel sure they are getting good value for their dollars.”
To that end, members of the town’s Fire Department Feasibility Study Committee are planning public meetings, an informational flyer, house-to-house visits and even a documentary on the stations’ needs that will air on Middlebury Community Television.
Recent weeks have seen various town boards review the building plans and give them high marks.
The development review board unanimously approved the project on Monday, noted study committee spokesman Peter Brakeley. Project advocates were able to respond to some board members’ questions about parking and the proposed inclusion of an elevator in the Seymour Street station.
Brakeley explained the elevator has to be included because of state code requirements for public buildings. The Seymour Street station will have a public conference room and lounge area on the second floor that must be accessible to all.
Middlebury Fire Department Lt. Pat Shaw, a leader of the study committee, told the selectboard on Tuesday that the town’s design review board was “very impressed with where we are now” on the plans. Shaw noted the design review board recommended brick facing for the front and sides of the Seymour Street station, as well as some kind of treatment to “tone down” the look of the proposed elevator tower.
Shaw and selectboard members got a glimpse on Tuesday of how the 20-year payback for the $4.876-million project would affect local property taxpayers.
Middlebury Town Manager Bill Finger presented calculations showing the bond would add $19 in property taxes per $100,000 of assessed value during the first year of payback (2013). The bond payback would hit its highest point in 2014, requiring an extra levy of $57 per $100,000 in assessed value.
The property tax effect of the bond would gradually decrease during the ensuing years of the bond issue, ending in 2033 with an impact of $28 per $100,000 in assessed value.
Those estimates assume an annual 1-percent growth in the town’s grand list.
Voters will be asked to make a $250,000 down payment on the project on Tuesday, Sept. 27. Those funds would be used to bring the project to final engineering, planning and design before the second and final vote next Town Meeting Day. Finger said the $250,000 would be taken from funds the town already has on deposit, and would be replenished if the $4.876 million bond passed. If the project fails to win approval, Finger said the town would seek bonding to repay the $250,000.
Town officials will schedule a public meeting in East Middlebury to explain that community’s fire station makeover and solicit feedback from local residents. Two additional informational meetings —on Sept. 19 and Sept. 26 — will be held in Middlebury to give additional exposure to the plan.
In other action on Tuesday, the Middlebury selectboard:
• Agreed to support the Addison County Humane Society’s effort to secure federal funding to help finance renovation and expansion of its headquarters at 236 Boardman St.
• Appointed resident Karl Neuse as a Middlebury delegate to the Addison County Regional Planning Commission and Finger as representative to the county’s Transportation Advisory Committee.
• Voted unanimously in favor of spending $20,530 for a shim and overlay project for School House Hill Road.
• Voted 4-2 in favor of awarding a waterline replacement project in the Rolling Acres neighborhood to South Hero’s Todd Chagnon Construction, which submitted a low bid of $247,938. Selectboard members Janelle Ashley and Travis Forbes voted against the contract award, noting that local contractor Champlain Construction was within 5-percent ($10,000) of Chagnon’s low bid.
But a majority of the board countered that not awarding the contract to the low bidder could set a precedent that might dissuade out-of-towners to bid on future projects, thereby reducing competition and potentially driving up the final price of work. Selectboard members agreed to discuss the town’s bidding policy at a future date.
• Continued to discuss planning for new town offices and a community center. More details on potential costs and design should be ready within a month, officials said.
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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