Special Town Meeting: Public Safety Project

On Monday evening, February 3, funding for long-awaited construction to improve Weston's public safety facilities will be decided at a Special Town Meeting. It takes place in the Weston High School cafeteria at 7:30 pm.

Voters will be asked to approve drawing just over $2.1 million from reserves. But by the time the work is done, the ultimate Town spend will be much less.

The project includes expanding Firehouse No. 1, improving police headquarters, and putting the emergency dispatch center into reliable working order. A modest amount of renovation will also be done at Town Hall to adjust for space that will be given over to the police.

The Town has the money. Over many years and several administrations, reserve funds have been allowed to accumulate to address the most urgent public safety facility needs without borrowing or impacting the mill rate.

The estate of Daniel E. Offutt III has pledged a $500,000 reimbursement, and Weston's volunteer EMS has committed an additional $250,000 from its endowment.

This means the final draw from reserves will be about $1.4 million. It could be less if a built-in contingency allowance is not needed.

"A Fantastic Opportunity"

"This is a fantastic opportunity to address critical public safety needs without adding a penny to the mill rate," said First Selectman Chris Spaulding. "We've saved wisely over the years to get this done, and we will still have a very healthy rainy day fund."

Dr. Spaulding once again thanked Richard Orenstein, trustee of the Offutt Trust, for the estate's generosity to Weston, which includes substantial support to EMS, the Weston Public Library, and the Weston Historical Society. He also praised EMS president Jon Weingarten for "generously sharing EMS's own money to serve every citizen in Weston, which they do for free."

The project was first announced in October of 2018. Since then, plans have been developed and finalized, bids have been solicited and received, and the Police, Planning and Zoning, and Historic District commissions have signed off. The Town's Building Committee worked extensively, to a high level of detail, throughout the process.

The boards of Selectmen and Finance approved the supplemental appropriation on January 23. It goes to a town vote because of its size, as the Town Charter limits the amount that can be allocated from reserves each year without public consent.

The Scope of Work

Firehouse No. 1, on the main Town campus, will get a second floor, toward the back of the building, to allow construction of quarters where emergency responders can bunk, meet, and train. In 2018, Mr. Weingarten told Weston Today he has been working for over a decade to get such a facility built.

Currently, volunteer crews often scramble from home, sometimes late at night, which extends response time. In weather emergencies, it can be difficult or impossible for them to reach the Town Hall campus, where vehicles and equipment are stored.

The Weston Police station will expand, slightly, into a portion of the Town Hall building. Some of the construction at police headquarters will provide needed room for interrogation, processing, and evidence collection and storage.

Parts of the police facility, which inside is noticeably run-down, will be brought up to code. Outdated and potentially dangerous detention cells will be replaced, conditions that pose injury liability risks to the town will be remediated, and a modern camera system will be installed.

Plans for the emergency Dispatch Center, which is in desperate condition (as we reported in November of 2018), have been scaled back to the bare minimum, with only $75,000 to be spent. Dispatch could possibly be regionalized in the future, and the Town is about to begin a wide-ranging study of optimizing use of all Weston Town and School District facilities.

The work now planned at Dispatch will buy time until the bigger picture develops. It includes rewiring, replacing ceiling tiles and insulation, interior painting, carpeting, and restroom improvements. A new asphalt-shingle roof will be installed, and two workstation consoles will be replaced.

Radios Not Included

The question before voters on February 3 will not include a potentially large investment to replace obsolete emergency communications equipment. Technology decisions on that remain to be made. Preliminary quotes, which came in only recently, were higher than expected. The Town may engage a consultant to determine the best, most economical approach, and will likely present it separately to voters before too long.

Reserve Funds

An analysis presented by Finance Director Rick Darling to the Board of Finance on January 23 indicates that Weston's reserve fund would still be strong after a $2.1 million draw for public safety construction and would remain healthy if a subsequent investment, even one based on those preliminary quotes, is made for communications gear.

Mr. Darling forecasts a current fiscal year-end reserve balance of $14.6 million. In any scenario, fund balances would stand at a favorable level for the key metrics used by municipal credit rating agencies.

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