FARMINGDALE — Once again, residents gave their blessing to spending money for a new fire station in Farmingdale — but not before scrutinizing the station’s design.

Sixty town residents, about 75 percent voting in the affirmative, approved an article at Thursday’s special town meeting to allow the town to proceed with a loan for $1.7 million to build a fire station on Maine Avenue. The project probably will be put out to bid again early next year.

Voters approved up to $1 million in funding in 2017, but that funding never was secured because it was insufficient for the bids received from contractors in September. The bids — all of which were rejected in October — ranged from $1,543,000 to $1,776,651.

The design concept calls for a 80-foot-by-80-foot station with a 100-foot-by-100-foot parking lot at the site, giving the department more space than the cramped station at 289 Maine Ave.

Residents asked why the town sought $1.7 million when the low bid was $1,543,000. Selectman Wayne Kilgore said some costs — such as a flashing light to warn drivers on Maine Avenue that a truck was exiting, and furniture — were not included in the design and proposal.

Comments from residents before the vote centered around the belief that the design was too large and would accommodate more equipment than the department has. The department has two trucks, but the new station is designed with three bays. Fire Department officials said the new design would give them room to expand if they were to need another truck.

Assistant Chief Mike LaPlante said the town is cutting back as much as it could with the design, opting for a cheaper ventilation system and concrete floors without tiles. Fire Chief Dana Mealey said he would like to have a top-of-the-line building, but this structure would easily make the department more effective.

“Certainly I’d like to see a big, fancy building,” he said. “This is going to be so far above and beyond what we have now.”

Currently, the department has to special order smaller firetrucks to fit in the existing station. Fire Chief Dana Mealey said the town would save money — about $40,000 on a single truck — by buying normal-sized firetrucks. LaPlante said extra space in the station would be helpful for training, storing equipment and drying thousands of feet of hose.

A motion was made to table a vote on funding until a public hearing is held, but it failed by a significant margin. Selectwoman Nancy Frost was an advocate for a public hearing when a special town meeting was discussed back in October. She said this meeting, which had about an hour of discussion prior to the ultimate vote, essentially accomplished the same thing as a public hearing, with a higher turnout.

“I think we got a much better turnout here than we would have at the Town (Office),” she said. “This is more people than we had at the regular town meeting.”

Resident Scott Avore, who voted against the article, said he would have liked to have a public hearing and he was unaware that the town was considering building a fire station until he learned of the special town meeting.

“I just think it’s a bigger building than they need,” he said after the meeting. “They could pare it down to save the taxpayers some money.”

Another resident asserted that $1.7 million figure was too high, citing Hallowell’s $1.9 million station, which he called “the Taj Mahal of fire stations.” Hallowell Fire Chief Jim Owens, a Farmingdale resident, said the Farmingdale station was much bigger, cost less per square foot and did not have the land constraints that Hallowell’s station did.

“(The Hallowell station) is beautiful and we like it, but it’s not ideal for our operational purposes. There is not a lot of room in that station; we didn’t have a lot of choice,” he said, citing the small plot of land the station was built on.

“I think (Farmingdale officials) designed a minimal station,” Owens added. “I don’t see any waste in this station.”

Residents speaking in support of the station said it was long overdue and a necessary expenditure for keeping the town safe.

Mealey said after the meeting that there was ample opportunity for scrutinizing the design ahead of the special town meeting.

“We discussed the design at the selectmen’s meetings, and anyone can come to the selectmen’s meetings,” he said. “I understand that there wasn’t an official public hearing but … the design has been at the Town Office for six or eight months now.”

Selectman Jim Grant said during the meeting that the town has “kicked the can down the road” for too long in regard to the fire station.

“We’ve cost the taxpayers even more money,” he said, urging voters to approve the funding. “If we wait longer, interest rates will go up and building costs will go up.”

Selectmen said bids were high in October because of skyrocketing building material costs. A price index of building material and supplies compiled by the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis based on U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics data shows an upward trend over the past 14 years, with prices peaking in July. In October, prices fell slightly, but still were the third-highest since December 2003.

Frost said she was pleased with the outcome of the meeting.

“Hopefully bids come in where we want them to and we can get started on this project,” she said.

The warrant article estimates $801,779.47 in interest, based on the estimated rate of 4 percent on a 20-year loan, with annual payments of $125,089. The total cost of the loan is estimated at $2,501,779.47.

Using this year’s budget, Town Clerk Rose Webster estimated the property tax rate would jump by 59 cents — from $16.30 to $16.89 per $1,000 of assessed value. That figure is for the entire $1.7 million, but the town also can accept a lesser amount if bids come back less than $1.7 million. Longer loan terms would have reduced the effect on the property tax but incurred more total interest.

The final effect on the property tax rate would be finalized after the loan is finalized and a bid is accepted.

A lot just north of Gosline’s Hardware on Maine Avenue has been clear since May awaiting construction.

Webster said last month that the town has $1,175,944 in outstanding loans and is not in danger of eclipsing its borrowing limit. Farmingdale has an outstanding balance of $881,252.99 on bonds.

Sam Shepherd — 621-5666

[email protected]

Twitter: @SamShepME

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