BLOOMINGDALE - St. Armand residents will get to decide whether the town should build a new, $750,000 town highway garage.
More than 70 town residents signed petitions in support of a permissive referendum on the project, well above the 26 that were needed to force a vote, a disappointed town Supervisor Joyce Morency told the Enterprise Friday. She said there were "a few flaws" with the petitions but not enough to significantly change the number of signatures.
At a special town board meeting on Thursday, the board accepted the petitions on a 3-2 vote, with Councilmen Donald Amell, Earl "Jimmy" Dakin and Sam Grimone in favor, and Morency and Councilman Charlie Whitson opposed. Morency said the earliest the referendum could take place is August 6. She said that means construction of the 7,200-square-foot masonry-walled building, even if it's approved by the public, couldn't happen until 2013.
The town of St. Armand wants to build a new highway garage to replace the current garage, seen here last month. Now, town residents have forced a referendum on the project.
(Enterprise file photo — Chris Knight)
"That puts it out of the ballpark," Morency said. "Now, we can't put up a building up this year."
Morency and Whitson had hoped there wouldn't be referendum because they were afraid the timeline for doing so would delay the project, leaving the town with no place to park its highway trucks this winter. Town officials told the Enterprise last month that they don't believe the town's insurance company would cover the town's vehicles if they're parked in the current garage, which is 70 years-old and is in disrepair.
Morency said Friday that the town planned to get public input on the project, contrary to what some people said at Thursday night's meeting.
"We will have a vote of the public even though we intended to do it," Morency said. "Our reasoning was, let's wait until when the bids (which are due June 21) come in, because if they come in too high, we'll be first to reject them. We said we'd have a public forum on it to hear what people think we should do. We've said that all along."
Bloomingdale real estate broker Sandy Hayes collected most of the signatures to force the referendum.
"The primary purpose was so the board would consider all options of construction rather than just the concrete block construction," he said Friday. "Maybe their choice will end up being the best choice, but if you don't have anything to compare it to, you don't know what your prices are and what the choices are. I don't care if they build it out of straw, as long as its a good building at a fair price and provides the protection for the equipment we have."
Town officials have argued that they considered several alternatives before settling on the current proposal, which is based on a highway garage recently built in the town of North Hudson. In addition to that garage, Whitson and town Highway Superintendent Roger Oliver also visited highway garages in Schroon Lake and Brighton, and Oliver visited a private garage in Tupper Lake.
But Hayes said town leaders didn't go far enough and should have looked at more garages before deciding to push ahead with the current plan. Hayes said St. Armand resident Dick Trudeau has offered to meet with the board to discuss a pair of metal garage buildings he's constructed in the area. Hayes also said he thinks the town has time to build a new garage before winter, particularly if it's a metal building.
"Now that they have to wait a minimum of 60 days for the referendum, that gives them 60 days to look into these options and present them to the public," Hayes said. "There's nobody I'm aware of that does not want to see a new town garage. I don't think there's anyone really objecting to paying one or two dollars a week additional on their taxes for 25 or 30 years. It's just the way they're going about it."
Amell said he had no issues with town residents pushing for a referendum.
"The taxpayers wanted a voice in it, and I'm certainly not going to be against that," he said.
Amell was one of two councilmen (Dakin was the other) who voted against the May decision to move forward with the proposed $750,000 garage. He said there are other options, such as a metal-framed building, that he hopes the town board will look into over the next two months.
"I didn't feel I had personally done my homework on all the options," Amell said. "I'd like to come up with what I'd think of as a cheaper more reasonable option. I want to continue to investigate this. But when we're finished with the process, I could support the proposal if it turns out that that's the best choice."
The town board meets at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday night. Hayes said he's taken out ads in the Enterprise and just bought space on the Bloomingdale Volunteer Fire Department billboard asking the public to attend the meeting.
Contact Chris Knight at
891-2600 ext. 24 or cknight@adirondack