Somersworth City Council to decide how to pay for a new fire station

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The city originally authorized a $7.7 million bond to finance the fire station, but now city officials say the cost has since gone up to $9 million. The City Council has to weigh if and how the project should proceed. It comes down to this: Should the project be delayed with hopesconstruction costs go down, or should the city find a way to finance it now? 

Addressing the $1.3 million difference

The city hopes to address the $1.3 million difference with a combination of federal grants and city funds rather than adding the full amount to the amount of money it had planned to bond.

In a special meeting on July 12, Councilor David Witham said rising construction costs drove up the price of a new station. 

Story Highlights

  • The station is slated to replace the outdated existing 8,100-square-foot fire station, built in 1976, at 195 Maple St.

  • This isn’t the first time city officials have been concerned about the cost. In March, the Fire Station Building Committee looked to make almost $500,000 in cuts to reduce the cost of the design by removing the training tower and using more cost-effective materials, lowering the cost of the project to $6,490,977, according to city documents. Fourth months later, that estimate and realization of cost savings is no longer part of the conversation.

Previous story:New Somersworth fire station design being cut to save $500,000

If the City Council used $240,000 from the fund balance towards this project, $600,000 in American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds (for ventilation system costs in the new station), the city could increase the bond authorization by $460,000 to a total bond authorization of $8.1 million.

“If it wasn’t for COVID-19, we wouldn’t be seeing these cost overruns, but if it wasn’t for COVID-19, we wouldn’t have these ARPA funds available,” Witham said in the meeting. If the city increased the bond and added five years to repay it, moving it from a 25-year bond to a 30-year repayment schedule, Mayor Dana Hilliard said, it would drop the estimated tax rate increase to 26 cents per $1,000 of property value from the original estimate of 27 cents.

Mayor says project must happen “Despite some individuals forecasting costs might go down, we heard clearly from construction experts that the price we were looking at pre-pandemic is not coming back,”  Hilliard said. “The project is long overdue and we need to move forward. We can’t delay any longer.”

During the special meeting, Councilor Marty Pepin noted “kicking this down the road” may be more costly than addressing it now. While Councilor Kenneth Vincent advocated for postponing with moving forward, adding the five years of bonds may slightly decrease the tax rate but it adds $2 million in interest.  2021 election:Somersworth Mayor Dana Hilliard seeks 5th term, running against Councilor Crystal Paradis

“Our job as city councilors is to be good stewards of our resources, and to do right by our constituents,” City Councilor Crystal Paradis said. “I hope residents will reach out to us directly or come speak at the public hearing Monday night, so that we can hear from them before we vote.”

A public forum at Monday night’s council meeting will be held to allow residents to speak their minds on how the project should move forward.  “If we delay this project, we may miss an opportunity to lessen the blow to taxpayers,” Hilliard said.