Dartmouth police station project to be placed on November ballot

Apr 26, 2016

Voters will get another chance in November to weigh in on whether or how to update the Dartmouth's police headquarters.

Town Administrator David Cressman told the Select Board on Monday that the town can consider adding multiple questions to the presidential ballot to give voters options for how the town might proceed with the project.

A total of 52 percent of voters at the town election in April rejected the proposed $8.6 million renovation to the 249 Russells Mills Road police station. The station was closed in 2014 when bacterium legionella was found in the hot water system after an officer became ill. Since then, officers have operated out of a modular building located on the property.

The Board is waiting for a recommendation from Acting Police Chief Robert Szala before determining what question(s) will be put on the ballot. There is an August deadline for submitting questions for inclusion on the ballot, Cressman said.

The station renovation most recently proposed would have been funded by a Proposition 2½ "debt exclusion," which would have allowed taxes to be increased above the state-mandated limit until the town repaid the money it borrowed to pay for the renovation -- approximately 20 years. The project was projected to add $36 to the annual tax bill for a home valued at $280,000.

"People need more information or more opportunity to express what they're preferences are," Select Board member Frank Gracie said on Monday.

According to Gracie, town residents didn't want to spend that much money on that particular property. He suggested revisiting plans with the architect to give more "reasonable options" to the town.

The board suggested that it start drafting a proposal before July.

"We need a functional building with all the latest equipment [that] will be functional for 50 years. We don't need a Taj Mahal," noted Chairman Stanley Mickelson.

He suggested looking at neighboring towns for inspiration and estimates of size and cost. Cressman discouraged that approach, explaining that each town has various factors that effect the need for capacity and complexity -- which effect budgets.

Board member Shawn McDonald discussed the possible location for the police department should the town decide to vote on a new building at a different location. however, centralizing accessibility posed a problem as well.

"No matter where you go in this town, there are really only four roads that go north and south," McDonald said.

Gracie stressed that the next time the project is up for a vote, it must be better advertised to the public.

"We do have some work to do," Mickelson said.