Budget Committee Endorses Public Safety Complex

January 23, 2015

by S. Aaron Shamshoyan

While a new public safety complex will need to be voted on by residents in March, a warrant article will head to the ballot with recommendation by both the Salem Budget Committee and Selectmen.

The proposal would build a 54,000-square-foot safety complex on Veterans Memorial Parkway combining both the police and central fire stations.

The building would cost $23.48 million to construct, requiring a taxpayer funded bond of $21.83 million to replace both buildings and $1.65 million coming from other available funds.

Salem residents spoke out at the last budget committee meeting, seeking a vote with recommendation to replace the aging buildings.  After much discussion, the budget committee approved the warrant article on the safety complex by a vote of 5 to 4.

Resident Gary Azarian said the project was important for the town and first responders.

“I would like to drive by buildings that I am proud of and that are functional and safe for the community,” he said.

“We cannot continue to be cheap and keep cutting and cutting and cutting,” Azarian added.  “We need to invest the dollars in our community so our community can grow and succeed.”

Azarian said people are moving from town due to dilapidated infrastructure, which is also a deterrent for people to move in.

Gene Bryant, a former member and chairman of the planning board, said costs to reconstruct the facilities are increasing and it was the right time to get the project done.

“A recurring issue for 15 years has been the condition and status of our public safety facilities,” he said.  “It was always too much, it was always the wrong time, it wasn’t the right plan or there was something else to do first.”

Bryant urged the board to support the project saying costs were the lowest they will ever be.

“We certainly know it will never be cheaper later or ever,” he said.  “This is an investment with a real return.”

He added the buildings are not safe for employees and residents.  “How much do you have to pay an employee to work in unsafe, unhealthy, unattractive, inefficient facilities such as the police station and central fire?  Can you retain the best people when this is what you offer?”

Board of Selectmen Chairman Pat Hargreaves said he tasked Selectmen Everett McBride and James Keller to create a proposal for a new safety complex and evaluate the best location, facility, and plan.  He said the complex was needed for the town.

“It’s time for Salem to take charge, stand up, and take Salem pride back to where it belongs,” he said.  “These buildings are dilapidated; they’re falling apart around us.”

Hargreaves noted a leak which happened the night before the meeting in the roof of the police station and traveling into the booking room.

“We need this building, not just for the police department, not just for the fire department, but we need it for Salem, New Hampshire,” he said.

Budget committee member Shannon Bettencourt said the project comes on the heels of major renovations to the high school and elementary schools.

“This is not about feelings toward the police department, feelings toward the fire department,” she said.  “I just don’t know if I can sit up here in good conscience and support another large project.”

Selectman Stephen Campbell, speaking as a resident, said he opposed the project, and wasn’t sure it was the right project.

“I don’t think there’s any question that the buildings need something done to them,” he said.  “The question is, is $23 million the correct project?”

He questioned whether the cost estimate was correct saying he felt the backup to the cost was insufficient.

Campbell also said the Kelley Library was built around the same time as the other two buildings and was in much better condition and questioned why these two needed to be replaced.

“I don’t think this is the right project,” he said.

Selectman Everett McBride said the town tax rate has dropped 21 cents since 2012, allowing needed projects to be funded.

“Waiting is not going to drive the cost down,” McBride said.  “Absolutely won’t.”

He added the library was built for the future when first constructed and, that if the police and central fire station were built that way, this proposal wouldn’t be needed.

“This is the right solution, at the right time, for all the right reasons,” he said in closing.

Selectman James Keller said 52 meetings were held to create the proposal with every possible site looked at for the complex.

“I made darn sure that if I was going to put my name on something it was the best plan possible at the best economic value for the taxpayer,” he said.

Keller added the police department had only 12 sworn officers when it was constructed in the early ‘60s.

He said the proposed size was needed to meet current requirements and plan for the future.  “The complex as it’s proposed is not going to get any smaller.”

Sherry Kilgus-Kramer, president of Support Our Schools, said the group endorsed the proposal for the safety of students.

“We believe that the safety of our students in Salem and the safety of Salem’s students is paramount,” she said.  “This project would definitely make this project a much better situation for our children.”

Ed Callahan, president of Rockingham Park, said the property would be redeveloped in the next few years, and larger facilities would be needed to support the change.

“The 170 acres at Rockingham will be developed in the next four, five years,” he said regardless if expanded gaming is passed.

Callahan said they send over nearly 200 people every year to the police department to be fingerprinted.

“The accommodations are less then acceptable,” Callahan said.  “We’re one of the larger businesses in town and we support it 100 percent.”

After the public input, the board voted to move the article with recommendation.  Members Paul Huard, Robert Bryant, Martha Spalding, Bernard Campbell and Stephen Campbell voted to support the board’s endorsement.  Members Shannon Bettencourt, Paul Welch, Steven Plante, and Chairman Dane Hoover voted against the endorsement.

Hoover said he struggled with the proposal.  “This is something that’s really needed.  We’ve spent a lot of money,” he said “My big concern is trying to balance making sure we take care of the buildings and we take care of the personnel.”

Voters will get the final decision on the article this March.