*This article was updated to include a link to the firehouse projects budget breakdown.
As the Rocky Point Fire District settles in for a $1 million community bond vote Tuesday, some residents still have questions about the process and what their tax dollars will go if they vote “yes.”
The district has scheduled a vote for Tuesday, Oct. 13, for a $1 million bond to help complete the station 2 firehouse construction. Officials have previously said that because of a delayed start, expanding construction costs and the pandemic they do not have the funds to complete the original $7.25 million project.
In a Zoom conference call hosted by district officials Wednesday, Oct. 7, fire district commissioners, the project and manager and attorneys for the district answered the community’s questions.
Several asked if there would be absentee ballots for those unable to vote in-person out of concern for the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, but Fire District Chairman Anthony Gallino said having to count absentee ballots would result in a “delay in the process,” when construction needs to be completed by the end of the year. Officials claimed that New York State law under Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s (D) executive orders are unclear regarding special district votes.
Fire District Attorney William Glass did not return a call for clarification before press time. Officials also said that if they waited for election day Nov. 3, the district would not receive funds until February next year.
The district originally asked the community to support a $8.5 million bond in 2017, where $7.25 million would go to the construction of the new firehouse. Gallino said they originally included about 7% contingency of over $500,000. This new $1 million bond is looking at a 25% contingency of about $250,000. Gallino added that any unused funds of the new bond will be put to paying down the bond.
“We realized that [original contingency] was not enough to cover obstacles so we put a little more in there for this building,” Gallino said.
On Saturday, Oct, 10, district officials made a full breakdown of the project budget available. Documents show the district lacks $752,310 to complete the firehouse. That number is out of a remaining $1.5 million on a firehouse that is 75% complete. The district still has $500,000 in contingency bond funds and $293,814 left in money taken from the general fund.
Click here to see the budget breakdown, which includes the remaining amount of money left from the districts last bond.
There were issues on the project from the start, officials said during the call. The project manager they originally hired put out bids which were routinely around $1 million over budget. In Aug. of 2018 the district terminated its contract with its original construction manager. In February, 2019 they hired a new project manager, Devin Kulka, the CEO of Hauppauge-based Kulka Group, and were able to get started with asbestos abatement in May, 2019 and demolition followed in June. Materials and labor costs, especially with New York prevailing wage, also increased from when the bond vote was passed. The pandemic made things even more complicated.
Documents show there were items that came in way over what they were originally budgeted for several years ago, resulting in the $752,310 shortfall. HVAC, for example, was slated for $600,000, but is now awarded at a $925,000. While a few items came slightly under budget, those overages make up the total of the $1.5 million the project is over by.
Kulka said during the Zoom call there was one contractor company that went under during construction due to COVID-19. He confirmed a surety company would be cutting a check for the cost between the work the contractor already did and what it wasn’t able to complete.
Gallino said materials costs increased by 10%. Some community members questioned what the cost could be on what has already been constructed, which now resembles a cinder block exterior, but officials said the price of prevailing wage kept costs high.
District officials said the increase of the yearly fire district tax bill will increase about $18 or $19 for the average house within the district. The idea of forking over more money during a time of austerity due to the pandemic might not be appetizing, but Gallino said this was the only means to construct the firehouse. Currently the station 2 company is housed in the old Thurber Lumber property on King Road, which is owned by local developer Mark Baisch. The developer allowed the company into the property free of charge, but plans to turn that property into a slate of 55-and-older rental pieces, and would need the company to be out by the end of the year.
“We’re also residents of the community, we understand that this was not an easy decision,” the chairman of the board of fire commissioners said. “We tried alternative methods, but we found if you want to finish this building on time, you need another $750K to get it done, I think it was the only decision we can make at this point.”
Kulka said the firehouse should be finished by the end of the year if things keep at the current pace.
Some residents are still not convinced, perhaps even less so because of the Zoom meeting. Shoreham resident John Searing, who lives in the district and himself works as a project manager, said he does not feel they were given all the information needed to make a decision as he listened to the Zoom meeting.
“I went into this meeting with an expectation that the Fire District would be able to clearly articulate the need for the additional 13.8%, or $1 million, increase in this project,” he said via email. “However, neither the fire district nor their construction manager or engineer could even provide a rough estimate of expenditures thus far, which raised many more questions in my mind about the future need.”
The bond vote is set for Tuesday, Oct. 13. Polls will be open from 3 to 9 p.m. at the Shoreham Firehouse, located at 49 Route 25A. Voters are reminded to please wear masks and adhere to social distancing guidelines.
This article was updated Oct. 12 to correct the spelling of a name as well as add additional information from the budget document.