Hopkinton voters decide against $1.3 million for garage
HOPKINTON — A new highway garage failed to receive the necessary votes for passage at a special town meeting Tuesday night.
The $1.3 million bond to replace the garage which was destroyed by fire in June failed to achieve the two-thirds majority needed by four votes. A total of 264 people voted, with 172 for the building, and 91 against.
Selectmen had called the emergency meeting, with approval from the court, to get started on building a new highway garage before winter sets in. Currently, the Department of Public Works is operating out of a temporary trailer, and some of the town's heavy equipment is being stored at a state highway shed in Warner.
The board put forward a $1.3 million proposal for a new steel building which would have had two more bays than the old garage, radiant heating, and passive solar doors.
At the meeting at the high school on Tuesday night, resident Jeff Taylor spoke in favor of the building, and the highway department employees who are currently without a place to call home, and asked his fellow voters to support the bond. Selectman George Langwasser said that getting the work started on the building soon would mean the highway department and all its equipment could be in the new space by spring.
But other residents spoke against the building. Arnold Coda said he couldn't justify voting in favor of the new building with the current state of the economy and the demands made by the town and school district upon people with limited incomes.
“You're really pressing people to the wall,” Coda said.
Resident Bob Koch said he didn't understand what the emergency was all about and asked why the town couldn't simply wait until the regular meeting in March to approve the new building.
“Do we really need to rush this through tonight?” he asked.
For Ken Locke, the sticking point was the fact that the town still doesn't know how much it's going to receive for the destroyed building from the Local Government Center's risk pool, and until that figure is nailed down, taxpayers won't know how much of the $1.3 million they're going to have to shoulder.
Selectmen and the LGC have been struggling to reach a settlement on the old highway garage. For the past seven years, the town has been paying premiums based on a $1 million appraisal of the building, but after sending out a contractor to estimate the cost to rebuild the exact building, the LGC offered the town $630,000. Selectmen rejected that offer, concerned about the $370,000 difference between the building's appraised value and the LGC replacement value.
At that point, the LGC said they discovered that the building, as well as 50 other highway garages across the state, had been over-appraised. The LGC also said that the agreement with Hopkinton was to cover the replacement value of the destroyed building only, not to cut a check for the appraised value.
An independent appraiser was brought in to give another estimate of the cost to replace the old highway garage, and the LGC increased its offer to the town to $740,000.
But the board is not yet willing to accept that offer. The impasse will likely lead to arbitration, according to selectmen chairman Jim O'Brien. Locke said he wanted to see what the final number the LGC comes forward with looks like before giving the town the authority to spend $1.3 million.
“We need to settle this first so that the voters know what they're paying,” Locke said.
Coda said he'd like the town to review its agreement with the LGC and perhaps consider going with another form of insurance or a different risk pool to cover the town's buildings. O'Brien said that the board will be considering its options.
Voters will have another shot at funding a new highway garage in March.
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