Tuesday night, the Board of Finance moved forward with plans to bring proposed town highway garage and road projects to referendum this spring.
The finance board approved a total of $6 million for major road projects.
Much of the meeting was dominated by the Public Works facility proposed for 325 Commerce Drive, which the finance board voted 5-1 in favor of moving forward at a reduced cost of $5.4 million.
Last week, the Board of Selectmen voted to bring a proposal to the Board of Finance for up to $5.9 million for the land acquisition, site work and a 20,000 square foot garage building. Monday, Chief Administrative Officer Robert Skinner said the town had received an estimate of $5.5 million bid, build estimate from Borghesi Building and Engineering.
The meeting lacked the public fireworks of last week's Board of Selectmen meeting when more than 20 residents from the "Griswold Farms" homes above the proposed site spoke against the proposal, saying the site caused safety, environmental and economic concerns and would degrade home values.
Only three people spoke at the finance board meeting.
Glenn Arnold of Bart Drive pointed to a cost-benefit analysis posted on the town web site this week that showed the cost of the building over a 50-year period. Taking that number of $6.6 million and adding $1.2 million in administrative costs, that equaled $750 per resident, or over $3,000 for a family of 4, according to Arnold, who also argued the town could look into outsourcing more of its employees and services.
"This is just to construct it," Arnold said. "We haven't even considered running this Taj Mahal."
Later in the meeting Skinner said the estimated $6.4 million over 50 years was designed to show the contrast of the estimated $13.1 million the firm of Weston and Sampson came up with for the costs during the same time period should vehicles continue to be stored outdoors.
Resident Marianne Burbank also spoke and said many of the Griswold Farms residents who spoke at the Board of Selectmen meeting objecting to the site showed "arrogance."
"I was troubled by what I felt was arrogance on their part regarding their attitude toward the rest of Canton — that they were somehow special and above us all," Burbank said.
Resident Kevin Jackson then got up and responded (see attached video for more of their statements.)
Also at the meeting, Skinner presented a slide show on some of the town’s findings with the garage site.
Skinner noted some of the conditions at the current site, the common questions about the garage, some reasons for the site selection and other details. (See attached but note that Skinner said the presentation might be updated with further information).
Officials also addressed the common Barkhamsted question and why that town’s garage was around $2 million.
In addition to a smaller population, smaller facility, fewer employees and fewer miles of roads there are other major differences, Skinner said. The land was flat and the size of the building did not require the $100,000 sprinkler system needed in the Canton facility. There are other differences in the building itself, officials said.
Canton is also set on features some other towns have not included, such as a wash bay, officials said.
In all, Barkhamsted is a much different and smaller town, officials said.
"It really isn’t an accurate benchmark," Madigan said.
Skinner also said the town’s $5.5 million estimate included a $157 per square foot cost for the building itself, which is nearing Barkhamsted’s $125. In addition, the same firm that built that facility is the one that gave the $5.5 million estimate, Skinner said.
Permanent Municipal Building Committee member David Madigan also spoke, stating he felt the Commerce Drive site has many positives, including the intent for it to be industrial, a good distance from homes, planned screening and the way it would sloped down from view and the availability of utilities.
“I’m feeling quite comfortable with this site,” Madigan said, adding that the committee has conducted exhaustive site searches and evaluations.
Many have pointed out that a 2009 engineering report and grid for sites listed the commerce Drive site lower than several others under consideration. Madigan said in addition to factors later found on those sites, the biggest once with Commerce Driver properties was the mistaken belief that deed restrictions were prohibitive.
Board of Finance member Mary Tomolonius said she appreciated the work by PMBC, selectmen and others but felt the project’s price tag was still too high and felt the cost of running the facility and potential for growth had not been adequately explored.
“We do not need to spend $6 million of taxpayers’ money for a highway garage,” Tomolonius said.
Other Board of Finance members remained concerned with the amount of debt the town is taking on with the high school track and field project and roofs passed in November and the ones proposed this spring but generally felt the project should move forward.
Several said the town has made progress in lowering the garage proposals over the years, including after a plan to put a $6.75 million project for a facility on 5 Cherry Brook Road was pulled from the ballot last fall.
“I think there’s wide agreement that it needs to be addressed," said BOF member Brian First, adding that voters should get a say. First, however, suggested the finance board take the town’s latest quote of $5.5 million and lower it a little, requiring the town to get a better price or find some additional savings.
While selectmen will set the questions for bonding Tomolonius spoke strongly for separate questions, especially after the roads proposal was also taken off the November ballot since it was packaged with the garage.
If passed on referendum, the proposal would also have to go through the land-use approval process.
More documents related to the garage search can be found on the town web site.
After the meeting, Public Works Director Robert Martin thanked the boards who have worked to relocate the garage.
"I would like to thank the boards who have worked so tirelessly on this relocation of the town highway garage," Martin said. "We really need something other than where we are."