Fire district votes no for second time on new station

Cape Cod Times

HYANNIS, Mass. — There were a lot more Hawaiian shirts and sandals and less money on the table than during a March vote on a new fire station, but the outcome Tuesday was the same.

The Hyannis Fire District again rejected spending for the station in a meeting at Barnstable High School's Performing Arts Center plagued by problems with the sound system and confusion over what was being voted.

At first it looked like the meeting would come to a quick end when moderator Hugh Findlay called for discussion on a proposal to spend $18.9 million on the new station and nobody stood up. Voters had plenty to say over the next two hours, however, and in the end the vote of 298-164 in favor of the project was still eight votes short of the two-thirds majority needed to approve it.

The first vote on the project March 5 was 210-169 in favor, an outcome that was also short of the two-thirds majority. After that vote, the architects and project manager slashed the building from 42,700 square feet to 36,649 square feet, eliminated the third floor and reduced the cost by about $1 million.

Despite this, a further cost reduction and a door-to-door campaign by fire officials, the problems for project proponents started early as voters struggled to hear speakers. Although some of the problem was blamed on the sound system, which kicked out feedback and muffled speakers' voices, even when voters heard what was being said they didn't seem to understand it.

Following a presentation by Hyannis Fire Chief Harold Brunelle and other fire officials, project manager Paul V. Griffin Jr. of Marlboro-based Construction Monitoring Services recommended the cost of the measure be reduced to about $17.8 million. The difference would be made up through the sale of two properties the district owns or through further cuts to the plan, Griffin said.

Bids for the properties that were opened on Friday were lower than officials had hoped for, Griffin said, adding that the parcels should be advertised more aggressively to get a better price.

After Paul Sullivan, chairman of the fire commissioners, moved to amend the motion to reflect Griffin's suggested change in the cost, voters started to question what it was they were voting on and whether the $17.8 million figure would be the last asked of them for the new station.

"We will not be coming to the citizens for one more penny," Griffin said.

The tax increase for the owner of a $311,000 house — the median value of a home in Hyannis at the time of the March 5 meeting — would be $139 at its highest point in 2016 and go down from there, according to a chart projected in front of the voters. (The median value of a home in Hyannis has since increased to $328,000.)

Deb Krau, treasurer of the Greater Hyannis Civic Association, questioned whether the cost included design expenses the district had been asked to approve at its last annual meeting.

The need to spend that money was based on state statute that required that a payment on $675,000 for initial design costs be made if a positive vote didn't happen within a certain time frame, said Lynne Foster, a consultant on the project's financing. The $675,000 was part of $3.4 million that voters had previously approved for design and land purchases associated with the project, which critics argue put the actual cost of the project past $21 million.

All of the spending was included in the estimated tax impact, Foster and Griffin said.

But some voters still didn't seem to understand what they were voting on, and after Findlay ruled that a voice vote on the amendment had failed, the audience erupted in cries for a standing vote. Others in the audience asked that the final vote be done on written ballots.

Findlay acquiesced on the standing vote for the amendment to reduce the price and tellers counted large red cards.

The amendment passed overwhelmingly 397-9.

But even then voters were still unclear on what they had voted on and what they were still being asked to decide.

After EMS supervisor Michael Medeiros tried to explain the vote, Findlay jokingly accused him of trying to steal his job.

"Give it up," somebody in the audience shouted.

And despite impassioned pleas from some voters who praised the fire department for its work, there wasn't enough support for the plan to move forward.

After the results were announced Brunelle said he was frustrated by how the meeting had gone.

"It frustrated me when I was watching it happen," he said, adding that he believed some supporters might have left because they didn't understand what was happening. "The sound was terrible. You couldn't hear anything."

Brunelle said he was unsure of what fire officials would do next about a new station but there are problems at the nearly 50-year-old existing station that need to be addressed.

"It's kind of like throwing money out the window," he said.

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