Bow voters reject $7.7 million safety facility after opponents question costs
Bow residents last night narrowly rejected a $7.7 million public safety building after several opponents expressed deep skepticism over the need for such an elaborate and costly facility.
The vote, 189-164, which was read just before 11 p.m., fell short of the two-thirds majority needed to pass.
“My biggest concern always comes down to dollars and cents,” said resident Lisa Cohen, who said she was against the proposal. “We’re a town of not quite 8,000. Do we need this? No, we don’t.”
The 30,000-square-foot facility would have housed the town’s police and fire departments and been located on the town’s sledding hill, at the intersection of Knox and Logging Hill roads. It would have replaced the two buildings where the departments now operate, both of which officials say are dangerously outdated.
The project would have been the first phase in developing a town center, which would also include a community building and commercial and green space and which has been in the town’s long-term plans for nearly two decades. Voters last year approved – by a 70 percent majority – $240,000 to design the facility.
Officials have pointed out several structural problems at the existing fire and police facilities. The fire department is not handicap accessible and has serious water leaks and shoddy wiring. The fire trucks parked there have to be customized simply to fit inside the parking bays. The police department has no secured parking space for officers who arrive with detained individuals, no holding cells, only one bathroom and no means to separate youth and adults or men and women, as required by law.
“It’s clear that the current facilities are not meeting the needs of the public,” said Art Cunningham, another member of the planning committee. “So it’s just a question of how are we going to resolve this. If we just keep putting it off, costs are only going to continue to go up.”
Frank Jones, a resident and criminal justice professor, called it “incredible” that juveniles and adults are not being separated. He said he supported the project.
“It’s either we spend 50 cents now, folks, or we spend a dollar later,” he told the crowd.
But several residents took issue with the cost of the project.
“I’m for a new building, I’m just not for this building,” said resident Matt Poulin. Poulin indicated that his chief concern was the project’s effect on local tax rates. He said that out of 245 towns in the state of New Hampshire, Bow has the seventh-highest tax rate per $1,000 of assessed property value, and that “with this particular bond, if I’ve done my calculations right, it will bring us up to third or fourth.”
Resident Bill Keslo noted that Deerfield was considering a similar facility (in fact voters in Deerfield rejected that proposal Tuesday) for more than $5 million less than what Bow was proposing. He suggested the planning committee take a look at how Deerfield’s leaders were able to keep their price tag so low.
“I think we should send this back and come up with a better proposal,” Keslo said.
Cost estimates for the project had risen nearly $2 million over the last year, but officials said much of that was due to a more precise cost analysis and a re-mapping of the building to better situate it on the property. All but $30,000 of the price tag would have been funded through a bond, which would be paid off over 20 years. The bond would raise local tax rates by 14 cents per $1,000 of assessed property value in 2014. In the second year that figure would jump to 60 cents, and then gradually decline thereafter.
Selectman Jack Crisp described the tax impact as a “brief period of pain” and then a gradual easing as the town’s other outstanding bonds are paid off.
But residents like Cohen said they were tired of what felt like endless tax increases. Cohen suggested there were several ways to improve the two existing buildings for a much lower total cost than building the combined facility. She said it would be easy to build another bathroom at the police department and said the town could purchase a recreational vehicle for “a heck of a lot less” than the proposed project.
“My taxes have tripled in the last 20 years,” Cohen said. “I’m not complaining, but, people move in and they want stuff.”
Voters approved all other warrant articles, including a $9.8 million town operating budget, which was up $380,000 from the last year’s. They also backed requests to pave Woodhill Hooksett Road between Allen Road and Nathaniel Drive and to design a renovation plan for the Baker Free Library.
(Jeremy Blackman can be reached at 369-3319,
firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @JBlackmanCM.)