Wilton votes to shrink fire station funds by $200k

WILTON – Voters refused to change the name of a capital reserve fund, which effectively prevented the purchase of the former Draper Energy Building for use as a fire station.

They then reduced a contribution to the fire station building/renovation fund by $200,000. The operating budget, said to be “$35,000 less than last year,” passed without debate.

Otherwise, the about 150 people at the traditional Town Meeting on Friday eventually approved everything on the warrant, including a new ambulance and a study to join the town’s water system with Milford’s.

The meeting lasted almost three hours.

The town officials’ intent was to follow a three-step process to allow for the purchase of the Draper Building if the voters wished to do so:

n Change the name of a capital reserve fund from “Fire Station Addition/Renovation” to “Fire Station Addition/Renovation/Purchase.”

n Close an existing Emergency Management Buildings account and move the balance of $84,630 to the town’s general fund.

n Move that money into the newly named CRF, where it could be used to buy the building.

Voters said they didn’t want to change the intent of the fund and refused to change the name, which set off a round of maneuvers, accomplished through several amendments to articles 11 and 12, which eventually closed the old fund and placed the money in the new one, but it was no longer available for the building purchase.

Selectman Richard Rockwood spoke for the purchase, which he agreed wasn’t feasible since it would require the town to pay the entire $795,000 from taxes, and Selectman Dan Donovan and Fire Chief Ray Dick spoke against it.

Under the original plan, the town would have provided $300,000 toward the cost of the purchase.

Rockwood said the 14,646 square feet could be renovated to be used for many purposes besides the fire station; the too-narrow doors to the bays could be easily widened; the lot in back of the building would add 75 public parking spaces; and an anonymous donor was willing to provide $50,000 toward the renovation.

Donovan said his concern was, “What’s the hurry? There has been no careful analysis of the building.

“It will cost a huge amount of money and there are problems with the Town Hall. We could put a half million into that. I’d like to see an engineering study of the doors.”

He added, “I can’t image it will sell quickly.”

“I was out of town when (the purchase) was presented to the Budget Committee and no one asked us about our feelings. This is where we want to stay. As chief, I ask, let’s continue with our program. Let’s be realistic and follow the plans that we started,” said Dick.

He added, “We’re volunteers, but when you call us, we always show up.”

He was vocally supported by a number of members of the fire department.

Article 14 asked, if the purchase was defeated, to place $300,000 in the capital reserve fund. Several amounts were suggested and $100,000 was approved.

In other action, voters approved the establishment of a new renovations fund for the library with $25,000 and contributions to two existing accounts: Town-Hall repair, $20,000, and highway equipment, $50,000.

They also approved $11,300 for a study of the decommissioning of the incinerator at the recycling center, which is due to be closed next year; purchase of an industrial-size lawnmower for the cemeteries and parks for $7,000; and a new police cruiser (a Crown Victoria sedan), with $18,000 to come from taxation.

A new ambulance will be purchased for $160,000 if Lyndeborough and Temple also approve the purchase. Wilton pays 55 percent of the cost, and that amount is in a reserve fund.

An agreement with Milford to provide water service was discussed at some length. Water Commissioner Jim Tuttle said a connection would be made at the “green bridge” on Route 101, which would provide Wilton with water in case of contamination or other problems with the town wells on Route 31 south.

“The town has no backup source,” he said, and only “two to three days’ supply in storage,” and noted that Wilton is the only town in the area without such a backup.

Assured that the study wouldn’t cost money and that any final agreement would come before the voters, it was approved.

Voters also approved designating an unimproved section of Dwight Road as scenic.

The operating budget approved is $3,983,483. Budget Committee members said the total budget, including special articles, was 10.4 percent less than last year.