There’s a new reason to toss the current selectmen and support proper oversight of our “superstar” Town Manager. Paul Cohen has proposed a FY2013 budget for approval at the next Town Meeting that includes debt service for a new $7.1 million fire station.
In other words, the Town Manager is proposing, with the support of the selectmen, that the town build a new fire station “behind the Town Hall,” by raiding the operating budget. This end-run eliminates the need for voter approval of the $7.1 million cost for the station. This is the same location and purpose that voters have voted down TWICE.
This isn’t just an insult to the voters, it’s going to have negative consequences for the town for years to come. The proposal saddles us with an operating budget commitment of $637,500/yr for “debt service” for decades. In tough years the operating budget is not going to be able to carry that weight. We’ve had budget cutbacks for the past six years. The libraries have not been open full hours. Just last year the School Committee felt so squeezed they laid off all the custodians in the school system! (This brilliant move later saddled the town with an extra $200,000 in extra costs for surging unemployment claims, by the way.)
The Town Manager is essentially claiming that we will be so awash in cash for the next 20 years that we can afford to insert $637,500 in debt service every year. The reality is that voters will be forced to approve a Prop 2.5 override or see further cuts in services down the road, and that's what this is about – forcing what is in effect a Prop 2.5 debt exclusion on the taxpayers without allowing you, the taxpayers, to decide whether you wish to take on this financial burden. This is not good, honest, or open town government. It is tyranny.
Someone in authority needs to ask the Town Manager why he is in such a hurry to get this construction of a new fire station at a new location started. There’s still a need to carefully study how to best repair or rebuild or add on to the existing fire station. The Town Manager unilaterally took repair “off the table” three years ago without explanation. Clearly, in retrospect, this was done in order to facilitate and keep quiet the land grab of Center Park by the Eliopoulos clan. But repair/upgrade doesn’t have to stay off the table. The BOS does not have to behave like a bunch of lap dogs – they should exercise their authority and responsibility and provide proper financial oversight of a proposed $7M project, and the taxpayers should have a voice in this regard.
In fact, the town has spent some $140,000 on three separate studies that all say the same thing: the optimal location for the Center Fire Station is right where it now stands, NOT “behind Town Hall” (at the ball fields). And the Permanent Building Committee’s own analysis shows that the most cost effective options for upgrading or rebuilding are to use the current location.
Unlike our current top officials, I will be exploring ways to keep it there. There are far better uses for $637,000/yr than building an unnecessarily expensive and destructive new facility.
To date, ordinary residents have shown more imagination and savvy than our current BOS and Town Manager combined. In fact, at Tuesday evening’s “Meet and Greet” a resident proposed an extraordinarily common-sense solution: Why not explore a similar situation and solution in another town? It turns out that the town of Arlington also has multiple fire stations and has rebuilt not one, but several, fire stations in place to upgrade them. Apparently, they don’t have an oligarchy to coddle.
Back in 2009 when protecting Phil Eliopoulos, did the Town Manager make a promise to the firefighters he can’t keep?
You know, this whole diversionary, confused, ineffective process that the Town Manager has put us through regarding relocating and building a new “Center Fire Station” reminds me of a blown call in football, where the team which seeks to benefit from a bad call on the field tries to hurry up and run the next play before it can be reviewed and, with respect to the error, “put it behind them.”
This proposal to insert massive debt service into the operating budget without approval of the voters is just more evidence that Town Manager Cohen is both incompetent and corrupt, and needs proper oversight so he does not continue to find ways to impose more multi-million dollar blunders on the taxpayers. The current selectmen are not so disposed. They are supporting this end run around you, the residents, taxpayers, and voters of the town. The tail continues to wag the dog.
Roland Van Liew