Officials in Elba -- the town, the village and the fire department -- think they've come up with a plan that would save taxpayer money and help all three agencies address some pressing needs, but at a meeting Thursday night at Elba Central School's auditorium, there was a good deal of negative feedback.
A frequent refrain, "this is just to benefit the fire department."
Officials are proposing a plan that would move town offices to the building currently occupied by village government offices and the fire department, creating a shared facility for both the village and town.
The current town hall would be converted into a new fire hall.
The town and village courts would continue with their plans to move to the new facility being built in Oakfield.
The total cost of the project, an estimated $900,000.
An alternative scenario is to leave the town and village governments in their current buildings, renovate those and build a brand-new fire hall. That plan would cost at least $2 million.
"The key point here is something needs to be done with the buildings for the town, the village and the fire department," said Village Mayor Scott Schular after the meeting. "We are trying to address those problems at a reasonable cost instead of getting buried in trying to do one thing at a time and then another and then another so we can keep the tax rate at a reasonable rate."
Jason Foote, an engineer with architectural firm Clark Patterson Lee, went through a slideshow presentation that laid out the needs, the plan and the alternatives.
The biggest deficiencies with the current building arrangement concern the fire hall. It was built at a time when fire trucks were smaller and more compact. Today's engines, which often must be built to meet state guidelines, are taller and longer. The current doorways on the truck bays are too small for a modern, unmodified truck. The bays are not deep enough for these trucks.
As a result, if Elba wants to buy a new truck, it has to be custom built at a cost of close to $200,000 or more per truck.
Also, when the Elba crews are out on a call, mutual aid companies are reluctant to fill in at Elba's hall, especially in winter, because their trucks won't fit in the bays.
The current hall also doesn't meet OSHA safety requirements, isn't compliant with ADA accessibilities rules, lacks adequate storage and has only a small meeting and training room.
The village hall lacks office space, a meeting room and a place for record storage. The bathrooms are not ADA compliant and lack storage for DPW equipment.
The town hall also has ADA issues and only offers access through the town clerk's office.
All of the buildings need basic repair and maintenance.
The plan officials would like to see the public support is not exactly perfect, they admit, but at least it addresses all of the issues in a cost-effective manner.
"Maybe (the proposal) doen't give everybody what they want, but it meets the needs for all three entities for next 30 years at a pretty cost-effective rate," said Town Supervisor A.J. Wormuth.
Building a new fire hall would require financing with a total estimated expense for principal and interest of $2.6 million and would take 30 years to pay off.
The cost of the consolidated plan broken down into its two main components:
- Fire hall, total capital costs of $217,650, with an annual debt of $18,979 for 15 years;
- Town/Village hall renovations, total capital cost of $232,350, with an annual debt payment of $20,090 per year for 15 years
The net cost to the village, $24,620 per year, with a projected increase of the tax rate by 99 cents per thousand of assessed value. A new fire hall would cost village residents at least $3.50 in additional taxes per thousand of assessed value.
The net cost for the town would be $24,308 per year, which would require a property tax rate increase of 23 cents per thousand, or an additional $23 a year on a $100,000 home.
Foote said the consolidation plan translates into costs that are two or three times lower than doing each project separately.
There was a lot of questioning of the plan primarily from two sectors, a couple of town highway employees and a homeowner with property adjacent to the town hall.
None quite came out and said they opposed the plan, but the tone was negative with an oft-repeated, "this sounds like a done deal."
One resident suggested officials should instead do something to build a senior housing complex in Elba. There were concerns raised about seniors on fixed incomes paying for anything, that young people aren't moving to Elba, and really, what officials should be doing is attracting a new big business to town.
One man said, "I'm not saying we shouldn't do it, but I'm concerned about what it's going to cost me."
There appeared to be objections among town highway employees because they would be displaced. While they would get a new cold storage building (where equipment is stored -- "cold storage" because the building is unheated in winter and not cooled in summer), it might be smaller than what they have now.
Foote wasn't surprised by the objections to the proposal.
"We've kind of heard rumors that there was maybe going to be a small contingent who are generally against it, but I think the overall idea was, 'we're looking to try and accomplish these tasks, renovate the village hall, the town hall and the fire department and be sensitive to taxpayer money,' " Foote said, adding, "Some don't want to spend any money and obviously that's a possibility. That can happen, but, again, that's not going to address any of the deficiencies at any of the buildings."
Both Schular and Wormuth both said the town and village boards will need to consider the feedback so far and look at their options, whether to proceed with the plan, devise an alternative plan or drop the idea. Nothing is cast in stone, they said.
Though Wormuth acknowledged that what he heard at Thursday's meeting doesn't necessarily reflect the views of the wider Elba public, especially once the idea is fully explained.
"When you talk with people out in the public one-on-one and explain it to them and give them the numbers, a lot of them say it makes a lot of sense because we're trying to be very cognizant in this project of our tax rates," Wormuth said.
Schular said he came away from the meeting feeling like there were a lot of mixed feelings expressed.
"There are a few people who understand and a few who don't understand," Schular said. "I guess we need to do a better job of trying to help those people who don't understand understand."
Schular said he realizes the proposal is a big step away from how business has always been done.
"I realize that the town has always been the town and the village has been the village and the fire department, the fire department, and it's been that way for years," Schular said. "Now the town and the village and the fire department are all talking and we're trying to come to a conclusion that will benefit everybody."