Cromwell takes town garage decision to referendum

CROMWELL – A referendum vote March 20 will decide the fate of the proposed new town garage.

The town is seeking approval to build a 38,732-square-foot combination public works/Water Pollution Control Authority garage and office complex on 13.5 acres of town-owned property off County Line Road.

The project is estimated to cost $9.3 million and will be paid for by a combination of borrowing, money from the General Fund and fund balance (surplus) from the WPCA.

Town officials held a town meeting Monday to lay out the history of the project and its anticipated cost.

Officials had anticipated voting on the project following the meeting. However, the town council’s three Democratic members – James Demetriades, Myron P. Johnson and Allan Waters – submitted petitions Friday to the town clerk to hold a referendum on the proposal instead.

Two hundred verified signatures were required to send the issue to a referendum. On Tuesday morning, Town Clerk Joan Ahlquist said her office had verified the signatures of 253 registered voters.

The referendum will be held from noon to 8 p.m. on March 20 in the high school gymnasium, Mayor Enzo Faienza said following Monday’s meeting.

Waters said Tuesday afternoon that taking the issue to referendum was “the smartest way for residents to decide when you are talking this amount of money.” He also said it was “the fairest” way to decide the issue.

“The taxpayers deserve to be treated like this, where you have the opportunity for two, three, four, or five hundred coming out to vote in a referendum instead of just the 50 people who came out Monday for the town meeting,” he said.

During Monday’s meeting, Town Engineer Jon Harriman laid out the history of the effort to replace the aging public works garage behind Pierson Park.

The first effort to replace the garage began in 2004, with a proposed 63,000-square-foot facility that would have cost $9.5 million. Town officials blanched at the projected cost.

However, in 2012, the WPCA — which rents space in a small building behind police headquarters — had exceeded its available space. WPCA officials contacted the town about merging the WPCA and the public works garage.

In 2013, the town proposed buying land from the fire district off Evergreen Road as the home of a new facility. That proposal was rejected by residents at a town meeting.

In 2016, the town received a state grant, which was used to widen County Line road and install water, gas and electricity.

Last year, when the Scannell Properties sought land to build a 400,000-square-foot warehouse off County Line Road, the company and the town worked out a land swap. That cleared the way for construction of the warehouse and opened the door for the town to build the garage.

The town is under orders from the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection to move and upgrade the transfer statio,n which adjoins the garage property.

Harriman said the town would also move the existing salt shed from the present garage site and install (and upgrade) it at the new garage.

The proposed garage would have a 25,500—square-foot garage, a four-bay repair garage and an indoor washing station to clean salt off trucks and thus increase their usable life, Harriman said.

Director of Finance Marianne Sylvester said the town will issue a $7.5 million bond to pay the lion’s share of the construction costs. The timing of that sale will be closely monitored.

“During the time of this project, a lot of debt will dropping off,” she said, as the town pays down the last of the high school construction bonds.

In the meantime, continuing economic development in town “should mitigate increases in the mill rate,” she said. In and of itself, the project would add “a third to four-tenths of a mill” to the tax rate, Sylvester said.

Officials of the D’Amato Construction Co. of Bristol, which has been chosen as the design/build contractor, estimated the work will take 18 months to complete.

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