Thorough work on fire/police facility

To the concerned taxpayers of Tupper Lake:

As an elected official for the village of Tupper Lake, I would like to respectfully respond to the recent editorials by our local newspaper publisher (Dan McClelland of the Tupper Lake Free Press) regarding the proposed emergency services building project that will go to public referendum on Tuesday, May 7.

In December 2011, I was appointed to oversee the village-owned Tupper Lake Fire Department. I am honored to work with these dedicated volunteers who selflessly serve the community of Tupper Lake. In the course of working as a trustee, I have witnessed the bravery and professionalism of our village Police Department. In recent years, they have saved several lives and assisted the fire department in helping families avoid tragedy. Both the fire and police departments have served our community well, and they deserve a modern facility that will support public safety in a prudent and professional manner.

Over the past 16 months, we have formed two committees made up of village and town taxpayers and local officials. The following people participated in these volunteer committees:

Feasibility Study Committee and Emergency Services Building Committee members included village officials and village taxpayers Tom Arsenault, Mike Kmack, Mark Arsenault, Shawn Stuart, Roger Amell, Paul Maroun, Royce Cole and David Maroun. Town taxpayers and officials included Roger Amell, Kathy Lefebvre, David Tomberlin, Dick Sabin, Mark Picerno and Jim Facteau. Village public safety officials were all involved to some extent, including police Chief Eric Proulx, Sgt. Sean Stradley and Rene Lamora as a representative of the emergency medical services. They all participated and voiced their concerns during the process over 18 meetings and five public forums. I have personally spoken with local contractors and interviewed engineers who build all types of fire/police stations. We interviewed several architects, and in all of these meetings, cost issues were reviewed and concerns about what type of building materials (metal vs. block/steel) were discussed at length. We looked at more than a dozen different scenarios, all detailed in a feasibility study completed in October 2012. We scored our results and came up with three recommendations to bring to the community. I reached out to the public in every village board meeting during the process to solicit feedback and to keep the process open and, most importantly, legal.

If you think that we came to these decisions lightly, you are wrong; we have debated and discussed many times over the different programs out there and decided that it would be wise to build a project that can withstand natural disasters and give our community a sense of security knowing that our first responders and their respective departments are ready for the unknown. We live in a world with many dangerous threats to our way of life, as well as real potential for natural disaster, so building a facility with the ability to serve as a regional headquarters for search and rescue, homeland security, public safety training, community shelter and fire/police operations is not only forward thinking but morally the right decision. To protect our families, we need to make sacrifices for the betterment of the whole community, and yes, that means paying the bill. On a recent trip to Florida, I counted the number of Transportation Security Administration personnel at both airports: more than 60 people in Fort Myers and 40 in Albany. This is the world we live in.

In my opinion, the first priority of local government should be public safety. We have been neglecting our police station for decades, and combining the police with our fire services is common in many communities. We have studied all the different alternatives, we agree that it is expensive to build a modern fire/police station, but this is a realistic goal for the community, and the more we delay this tough decision, the more it will cost in the future. If we had built this building in the year 2000, when it was last proposed, the project was estimated at $2.4 million vs. $4.5 million today, just 13 years later.

As a municipality, we have to follow New York prevailing wage laws and federal essential facilities code. These laws and codes add 30 to 40 percent to the construction cost. By combining the police and fire, we will save money in the long run; since only 22 percent of the building is for police services, it will cost approximately $990,000, not the $2 million that was inserted in last week’s editorial. If our community keeps declining in population and tax base, then we may have to reduce staffing to support fire or rescue services in the future. A combined facility will allow for this type of cross-functional staffing, much like fire/rescue departments in larger towns. As this building is designed, we could use what is called flex space to accommodate future restructuring.

Lastly, the formula for financing this building plan depends on federal support which we are working on securing. If these monies don’t materialize, we will have to restructure the project. We have capped the amount we can borrow at $3.2 million to make this project affordable to our local taxpayers. Yes, we could build a lumber structure with metal sheeting on the exterior, but why invest in something that has a limited life span that will cost more to maintain? The current village garage was built in 1967, and it will soon have to be replaced, less than 50 years later. We want a fire station that will be standing 100 years from now and one that could support additional emergency services, if needed. This is prudent thinking, not irresponsible.

To suggest we have been anything but thorough in our review is unfair and disrespectful to the many people who have worked on these committees and who are village and town taxpayers just like you. To misrepresent facts and figures to convince voters that this project is ill-conceived is wrong. Our community deserves better from its local newspaper publisher.

Thank you for your consideration and support of our local first responders. Please vote YES in the public referendum next Tuesday, May 7, at the Goff-Nelson Memorial Library from noon to 9 p.m.

Rick Donah lives in Tupper Lake, where he is a trustee and fire commissioner for the village.