Barre voters say no to funding new fire hall

Photos by Tom Rivers: The Barre Fire Hall on Route 98 is pictured tonight after a public vote for a new building. The current fire hall opened in 1960 after an addition was put on a former schoolhouse.

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 25 April 2017 at 11:35 pm

BARRE – Residents in Barre again voted down spending money for a new fire hall. The proposition, to borrow $2.52 million, was rejected, 188-137.

That is closer than the vote on June 4, 2014, when a  proposition to borrow $1.4 million was voted down, 249-114.

There were fewer “no” votes this time, and also more “yes” votes. But Barre firefighters were again disappointed in the outcome.

“It shoots morale to hell,” said Barre firefighter Jesse Babcock after the vote totals were announced.

The new building, in a long-term loan, wouldn’t have increased fire district taxes, said Barry Flansburg, one of the fire commissioners.

Now, the fire company faces the prospect of upgrading an existing building that is too small. The truck bays are too short to accommodate new fire trucks without costly modifications. Barre has to have its fire trucks retrofitted to be shorter and not as long as the regular specifications. That will be the case when the fire company replaces a 1990 pumper. That truck is 27 years old and should be replaced with a new vehicle soon, firefighters said.

Mark Farone, one of the fire commissioners, said a retrofitted new truck could add $200,000 to the truck costs.

He is disappointed in today’s vote. He believes the firefighters and commissioners made the case that the new building would improve fire service without raising taxes. The building also would function as a community center and Red Cross shelter in emergencies.

The ballots are shown after the vote today. There were 188 “no” votes and 137 for “yes.”

“The issue of the building won’t go away with a no vote,” Flansburg said. “We’re really up against it now.”

The proposed new fire hall was expanded from the proposal in 2014 to include a community center after feedback from residents. That center would have been available to community organizations, but wouldn’t have been for wedding receptions and parties.

The main focus was to better accommodate fire trucks and equipment.

The current firehall has four bays with doors that are 10 feet tall. Many of the modern fire trucks are 10 feet, 2 inches tall. Barre had to have its most recent fire truck special ordered so it was 9 feet, 6 inches in height. That made the truck costlier, adding about $100,000 to the cost, Farone said.

The Fire District is the taxing authority for the Barre Volunteer Fire Company. The fire company provides the personnel, and the fire district finances the trucks and equipment. The current firehall is owned by the fire company. The new one would have been owned by the fire district.

The district currently pays an annual fee to the fire company for using the old firehall. That payment could have instead been used as the debt payment for the $2.5 million facility, which would be paid over 30 years. The existing fire hall may have been put up for sale if the proposition for a new building had been approved.

Barre firefighters have tried to show their worth to the community, Flansburg said.

Barre has about 40 active firefighters who responded to 209 calls in 2016. They have fought fires on major holidays, and stepped up outreach efforts, including an annual toy delivery with Santa.

They held open houses on Tuesday evenings, leading up to the vote. Flansburg and Farone said only about four people attended those each week, or about 20 people total.

The firefighters worked hard to put together a project that was sensitive to taxpayers’ budgets, while also meeting the needs of the community and the fire company.

“I don’t know what more we could do,” Flansburg said. “The people would have been paying the same taxes for better service, and they still said no.”

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