~ by Rick Langenberg ~
Last November, voters of the Green Mountain Falls and Chipita Park area approved plans for financing a new elaborate, 24/7 fire station and giving themselves a slight tax increase.
Even though the vote was close, the verdict marked a big victory for the fire district and its long-term plans to develop a much needed new facility that would encompass a 7,500 to 9,000 square-foot building, double that of the current 60-year-old station. In addition, the new station would feature a living quarters and an around-the-clock emergency operation for the district.
But now, nearly nine months later, questions still remain regarding the fate of the new facility, proposed behind the Green Mountain Falls Town Hall, and the state of negotiations with GMF elected leaders.
During their regular June 20 meeting, the GMF board of trustees approved the district’s bid for a new subdivision for the fire station facility. However, at the same time, the board presented a slew of questions regarding drainage issues, a proposed dedicated public road access for the station and other development matters.
Plus, it’s still unclear if the district needs to hire an independent, engineering consult to address some of the key concerns for the new project.
During last week’s meeting , fire station consultant Todd Ficken outlined the latest site plan, involving two lots for the fire district and another possible private project by landowner Michael Lambert. Ficken stressed that in order for the fire station project to move forward, the district would need a dedicated public road to service the new station and would have to share a storm water detention pond area with the city for drainage purposes. This latter facility may have to be expanded.
Town leaders stated that they definitely favor the project, but couldn’t endanger the future of the town hall facility and must procced with caution.
“We all want to see the new fire station, but we have a responsibility up here,” said Mayor Jane Newberry, who cited concerns with utility and infrastructure limitations in this part of town. “We have to be good stewards. We have to look at what is good for the people who own this building, the citizens.”
“What is good for the goose is good for the gander,” replied Gary Florence, a board member of the fire protection district.
Moreover, he stated that if the district gets hit with extra engineering and consultant costs, it would virtually kill the project. Then, the district would be stuck with expanding their current facility, located in a flood plain zone, noted district representatives.
Board member Tyler Stevens, who also serves on the fire department, said some of the requests made by the district consultants need to be reviewed by the town’s attorney. “This may be a time to pause,” said Stevens.
He cited a concern with having to dedicate a public road for the project, along the current gravel pathway that currently serves town hall. “It was engineered as a driveway,” said Stevens.
Instead, he suggested just dedicating a public easement for the fire station. That way too, the town of GMF wouldn’t have to change its current address, noted the trustee.
But according to Ficken, the fire district has tough legal requirements in order to secure bond funds for the project. One of these deals with the fire station lots having access to a public right-of-way.
Newberry worries that if a public roadway is declared, the town may get hit with potential paving or road improvement costs.
The other main issue deals with drainage and having the town share certain facilities with the fire district and property owner Mike Lambert. Town leaders didn’t object to this idea, but wanted to research the details further.
“I am very supportive,” said Mayor Pro Tem Cameron Thorne. “But there are more questions.”
He cited drainage and the public road access as the main two potential stumbling blocks.
“The drainage is a potential problem,” said long-time resident Mac Pitrone and a former trustee. Pitrone advised the board to proceed with caution in handling the approvals for the new fire station. He also reminded the leaders that this tax issue did not receive overwhelming support. Plus, he believes that trustees Stevens and Michael Butts, who are part of the fire department, need to recuse themselves when more specific decisions come before the board regarding the new station
The actual tax issue for the station, allowing the district to incur $3.5 million in debt and to raise taxes $308,000 a year, was only approved by a small margin. At the same time, this marked one of the few tax issues that got approved by local voters last November. It actually emerged as a surprise verdict due to the lack of attention this issue received.
If a public roadway is established to serve both town hall and the new fire station, Pitrone asked that it be named in honor of the late Tim Carsell, the town’s former maintenance and public works director, who also worked with the fire department. Carsell also was one of the main driving forces behind the town’s previous July 4th fireworks celebrations, an annual tradition for years.
In order to move the project forward, the trustees agreed to okay the subdivision for the project. But with this approval, they made it clear that a lot more details need to be worked out.