Residents within the St. James Fire District voted “no” Sept. 19 to tearing down the Jefferson Avenue firehouse and replacing it with a bigger and better one.
The $12.25 million capital bond proposal sought to knock down the existing 7,404-square-foot firehouse on Jefferson Avenue and build an updated 22,458-square-foot structure in its footprint. The proposal was rejected by voters, with 775 “no” votes and 459 “yes” votes.
The concept of the new firehouse — which would have been more than three times as large as the current building — served to accommodate for modern requirements of firefighters while also taking care of renovations and repairs within the pre-existing infrastructure, which sustained significant damage in an August 2016 storm.
The estimated cost of the proposed facility would have made for an approximate increase of $118 to $198 a year for taxpayers based on their home’s assessed value.
“On behalf of the entire St. James Fire District, we would like to thank those community members who came out to vote today in our bond election,” the district’s board of commissioners said in a statement. “We are disappointed that the proposal was defeated. … As commissioners, we will now regroup and begin discussions of what our next steps might be. We will continue to keep the community informed throughout the process. As always, we will continue to respond to all emergencies in the quickest manner possible, as it is our duty and privilege to protect the residents of St. James.”
Prior to the vote Sept. 19, St. James fire commissioners said they would move forward with selling the Route 25A/Lake Avenue building — which was purchased by the district for $500,000 in 2013 — regardless of what residents’ decision was.
As they exited the voting booths, residents explained their stance on the proposal.
“I voted ‘no’ because the tax increase is too much and I was disappointed that the only plan that was put forth was a $12 million plan,” a resident who asked to remain anonymous said. “There was no B plan or C plan and I also don’t understand the sale process of the 25A building. If they’re going to sell it, then why don’t they use that money to renovate? It’s silly. Nobody needs more taxes at this point.”
Jerry Ruggieri, a 50-year resident, agreed.
“I voted ‘no,’” Ruggieri said. “I live two blocks down the road and I think it would cause havoc on Jefferson Avenue. They have two facilities that are more than enough to satisfy the town as far as fires and I don’t think we need the expense, in this day and age, creating a new fire department. We don’t need it. We’re fine.”
Victoria Johnston, however, voted “yes”.
“I just feel as though it’s in our town’s best interest to go with this new firehouse so that these guys have the best,” Johnston said. “These are people who wake up at 3 a.m. to go save your family members. They give up time with their families to come out and save yours. For a little bit more, everything could be good for them and be good for so long. I don’t get how you can say no to them.”
This version corrects the amount of “yes” and “no” votes casted.