LANESBOROUGH, Mass. — Voters shot down a proposed $5.9 million public safety complex 139-214 on Thursday.
They did approve nine other articles on the warrant, including accepting $150,000 from the Baker Hill Road District to purchase the land where the police and ambulance station would have been located.
Police Station Steering Committee Chair Kristen Tool said the land is contingent on the public safety complex being sited there. If the purchase goes through, the town can't do anything else with the land, the former Skyline Country Club's driving range.
The committee spent a year working on the plans presented to the town. What's next?
"That is a very good question, because this is the building that we need and now that the taxpayers voted it down, it's only going to become more expensive," said Tool. "So I don't think people realize what that no vote meant. It meant that all of us are going to be paying more taxes for this building. So, it's going to be more expensive."
More than 350 voters attended the special town meeting at the elementary school, filling the parking lot and overflowing onto the street.
The 6 p.m. meeting started 45 minutes late as voters shuffled into the school to debate the 10 articles on the warrant.
"It's democracy in action," Town Administrator Gina Dario said.
So many voters attended that town officials had to find an alternative way for them to place their votes because they ran out of the remote control voting devices, known as "clickers."
Voters with clickers submitted their vote and then held them in the air to prevent double voting while the rest raised their hands to vote for nine of the articles.
The vote on the public safety building, Article 4, was conducted by using the clicker submissions and secret ballot.
The moderator was unable to attend the meeting so the special town meeting voted to have Rob Riley fill in for the evening.
During the hour-long discussion, voters passionately voiced their opinions on the building project.
Those against the article expressed that the cost of the project would put a strain on residents, especially those in low-income areas.
One Finance Committee member said she is "extremely concerned about the economic strata within our small community."
More than a third of the town's nearly 3,000 residents are older than 60 and could be on fixed incomes, she said, and 44.6 percent of the town's pupils qualify for free or reduced lunch.
"We are not a rich community and the long-term effects of this size of the building I'm extremely concerned about," she said.
"[The Finance Committee] talked about insurance. We talked about heating with electricity. I think we have gone too large. I think that we have spoken about a 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. ambulance crew and I'm concerned that that's going to grow out of proportion to the need that we have."
The building would have been 7,300 square feet and built to accommodate a second ambulance.
Voters were concerned about unknown variables, including added costs for septic or a possible sewer line off Route 7.
And some felt the town was moving too fast and needed to take some more time to fully vet the situation.
"I'm well aware of what our police have gone through. I'm well aware of the building. I've worked in it. It was deplorable and I think we can all agree with the Police Department," Darren Derby said.
"The issue that I have, and I think what many people have, is when you've come at us with … nearly $6 million with a lot of unknowns … I just there's so many different unknowns and I don't think enough people got enough input nor were they able to give input. So obviously I'd like more time."
Those in favor argued that postponing the project is not cost effective as prices, and interest rates, will continue to increase. The project had secured a $1 million in state funding and was in line for a 40-year loan through the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Select Board member Michael Murphy left the board's table to speak as a citizen and acknowledged that the town may not be able to get more American Rescue Act Plan funds or grants, but that the police deserve a good location that is built to last.
"There is one guarantee that we won't get it and that is if we don't approve this, that is number one," he said.
He added that the police are currently in a temporary space that is not adequate, only available for two years and being paid for with ARPA funds that expire.
Some residents also noted that there is money available for shovel-ready projects and there are grants that the Finance Committee could apply for to help fund the project further.
During the meeting, Tool said that although the $1 million in state bond money is available to the town for another three to four years, it does not increase with inflation.
The other articles that passed were:
• To appropriate and transfer funds from the ambulance enterprise retained earnings in the amount of $82,400.32 to pay the remainder of the loan for the ambulance;
• To allow the Select Board to lease the second floor of the American Legion building at 144 Old State Road;
• To amend bylaws to hold the annual town meeting every second Tuesday in June rather than every third Saturday;
• To authorize the town to appropriate and transfer $75,000 from available funds or lease so that the Department of Public works can purchase a new pickup truck;
• To transfer $49,680 from free cash for a new boiler for the school;
• To transfer $6,500 from free cash to repair Town Hall's foundation;
• To transfer $13,025 from the Custodial Salary expense account to the Town Building Repairs account for Town Hall cleaning services;
• To transfer $18,767.12 from free cash to pay bills from last year.