NEWPORT — Nearly 70 residents voted to approve funding for two building projects during Newport’s Town Meeting on Saturday.
After a 30-minute discussion, voters approved two articles totaling $4,749,000 to pay for construction of a public works garage on Cemetery Road and a public safety building on Water Street on the site of the current public works garage.
The vote for the public works garage was unanimous, while the new public safety building drew one opposing vote.
“The (current) buildings were constructed during the mid-1950s,” Town Manager Jim Ricker said during the meeting. “The cinder block walls have many separations and breaks. Roofs and chimneys are in failing conditions, as well as the heating system. Actual space limitations are unsafe for our firefighters, police and public work crews.”
Both the public safety garage, which houses the Newport police and fire departments, and the public works garage are next to the Town Office on Water Street. The air quality and ventilation in those buildings have been questionable for some time, Ricker said.
“I’m going to estimate that to just bring them to code, it would cost $500,000, but you still don’t have a functional building when done,” he said.
Randy Butler of Dirigo Engineering gave a brief presentation on the two building projects. The public works garage will measure 90 by 110 feet, while the public safety building will measure 110 by 150 feet.
Both buildings will be a two-year process starting this year, said Ricker. The cost will be substantial, but necessary, he added.
The 30-year loan will equate to about “$1.16 more per every thousand dollars in valuation. That’s over a mil in taxes,” Ricker said.
That’s at the extreme end of the spectrum, he said.
“The select board and myself are committed to lowering that amount,” Ricker continued. “You have my assurance and you have the select board’s assurance that we will bring these projects in under that number.”
Most residents spoke in favor of the projects.
“I think it’s long overdue to replace these buildings,” said Ed McLaughlin, a Newport resident. “I thank our public safety people. They have a hard job. I think they deserve an appropriate place to work at.”
However, another portion of the warrant dealing with public safety prompted discussion, as there was nearly a $45,000 difference in recommended budgets from the Budget Committee and the Board of Selectmen.
The Budget Committee recommended a budget of $525,296 for the Police Department, while the selectmen recommended $480,534. The argument was about having a seven-person police force versus a six-person force.
“If we go back to six men, it will be tough to do what we need to do,” Police Chief Leonard Macdaid said. “We have the highest (crime) clearance rate in the state. Our clearance rate is 47.5 (percent). The state average is under 30. I’m very proud of the job our guys do.”
Macdaid said the clearance rate would take a hit if a person were dropped from the force.
Selectman Randy Davis argued that the town would receive the same level of service with a six-man force.
In a written ballot, residents voted 56-10 for the higher figure and to keep a seven-man force.
“I want to thank the town of Newport for their support,” Macdaid said after the meeting.
All 54 articles on the warrant passed with little to no opposition.
The 2014 budget of $2,651,946 is $38,712 more than last year’s budget of $2,617,741, according to Ricker.
Incumbent Doug Franklin again was elected to the Board of Selectmen for a three-year term, defeating Debbie Ferrell, 149-70, during Friday’s elections. Fred Hickey was named to the Regional School Unit 19 board of directors for a three-year term. No majority of write-in candidates was reached for the second seat.
Seth Bradstreet received 195 votes and was named to the Newport Water District board of trustees. No one took out election papers for two three-year term seats on the Newport Sanitary District board of trustees. The selectmen plan to appoint people to those positions.
Only 221 of Newport’s roughly 2,600 voters cast ballots Friday. In the 2013 election, the number of participating voters was 742.