Cities and towns throughout the state do not have the tax base or borrowing ability to build new or upgrade existing public safety and municipal buildings. We have each seen first-hand the struggles faced by small towns who do not have the ability to upgrade critical local infrastructure, such as police and fire safety facilities.
To address this issue, Representative Natalie Blais and I introduced S. 1489 and H. 3821, An Act creating a municipal and public safety building authority.
I testified with Rep. Blais and town officials from Royalston, Bernardston, and Ashfield. You can watch my testimony here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-BVvlYt2VcE.
The bill creates an independent public authority, similar to authorities that help finance municipal school buildings and libraries, to provide matching funds for local public safety and town office buildings. Under the bill, a dedicated fund would receive a third of the revenues collected from the Marijuana Excise Tax, which currently collects around $167 million annually. The funds could be used to assist municipalities with the construction of or improvements to municipal or public safety buildings including police stations, fire stations, EMS facilities, city or town offices and Department of Public Works facilities. The legislation sets up a process for the state to establish criteria, have independent experts evaluate proposed renovations or new buildings, and recommend funding based on available resources. The bill also sets up an advisory board to provide feedback and support from a variety of viewpoints.
We hear continually from cities and towns in our districts which are unable to fund essential capital projects.
- Leverett Town Hall has an old tight tank septic system that had a redesign completed in 2009, but the town has never had the funds to complete the construction. The closed holding tank must be periodically pumped out.
- Northfield has a shovel-ready plan for a public service complex that would put fire, police and EMS under one roof. The structure would replace three separate facilities that are in poor condition and not functional. For example, the EMS building, which serves four towns, has had chunks of concrete falling from the ceiling that were smashing into the ambulance. Their third ambulance is stationed offsite for lack of space. The current station has inadequate employee, sanitary, storage, training or office space. Over $800,000 has been spent to acquire land and complete an architectural plan for the facility, but the town is unable to fund the $13 million cost for construction.
- In Amherst, the main DPW building is in an old trolley barn, built in 1916. There have been no significant improvements and the structure does not comply with current codes – there is no sprinkler system, inadequate ventilation and it is not ADA accessible. A storage garage is used for staff meetings. The space is inadequate for modern vehicles and millions of dollars worth of equipment are stored outdoors. The roof leaks in multiple spots and is collapsing and falling apart in sections. Rain leaks drip down through live light fixtures. There is mold and the stairs are dangerous when water leaks down on them.
- In New Salem, the Town Hall, built in 1939 has deteriorated so much that it is no longer able to be used, except for the basement during the summer. Instead, a 1912 building houses the Town Coordinator, Board of Health and Police Department in the basement. The Police office space is too small and suffers from mold and mildew. An 1838 Annex is used for the assessors, tax collector, town clerk, accountant and town voting. It has an unimproved basement area and needs considerable upgrades for town offices, public meetings and voting use.
- In Royalston, the Town offices are both significantly cramped, but also in a building which is structurally unsafe and unhealthy. The Town has plans to move its staff but the only structure available needs asbestos remediation which is expensive and not eligible for any existing federal or state support.
- In Bernardston, the antiquated and unsafe fire station is too small to fit current equipment and lacks – really any – ventilation, forcing first responders to work in a significant unhealthy and dangerous space.
While school buildings and libraries have dedicated resources and established authorities to provide assistance, funding for local community buildings are dependent on appropriations and inconsistent bond authorizations.
This bill will establish a funding structure that can catalyze local and state investments to keep our communities strong and safe.