Some want cheaper solution to meet codes

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RUMFORD – Slightly more than 40 people, the maximum allowed by the State Fire Marshal’s Office, turned out Tuesday night in the Municipal Auditorium to learn about a proposed project that would bring the Municipal Building up to code.

The historic Municipal Auditorium can have only 47 people meeting in the high-ceilinged room, said architect Jim Reuter.

The purpose of the special selectmen’s meeting was to review two options, and perhaps find a third, for bringing the Municipal Building and auditorium, as well as the adjacent fire station, up to code.

The town meeting warrant, approved by selectmen last week, includes an article asking for authorization to seek bonds of up to $2.9 million to pay for the work.

That figure, if selectmen approve the most encompassing option, would connect the two early 20th century buildings, add 15,000 square feet of space including two bays for the fire station, meet fire and electrical codes, handicapped accessibility and exit requirements, and provide an alternative entrance for bringing prisoners into the police department.

A second option, at $1.8 million, would bring the Municipal Building up to code, create a centralized police and fire dispatch center and provide handicapped accessibility for the fire station but leave other code requirements for a future time.

A second hearing is scheduled for 6 p.m. next Tuesday at the Municipal Building auditorium.

Town Manager Steve Eldridge said the $2.9 million project could be financed for 10, 15 or 20 years. A 10-year loan would cost about $360,000 a year. The impact on residents would be about a 65-cent hike per $1,000 valuation, or about $65 more in property taxes per year on a home valued at $100,000, said Selectman Jim Rinaldo.

Seth Carey, a candidate for selectman and a lawyer, said both plans are wish lists.

“We should make the changes that need to be made, then look at these plans as a goal. We may not have enough money to pay off the project,” he said.

Lem Cissel, a businessman, said the town should prepare for population growth.

“Are you going to leave your children a building that is rundown with a Band-Aid? This beautiful building is a parent. Let’s take care of it,” he said.

Jennifer Kreckel, the town’s lawyer and a Rumford resident for about 15 years, admitted that $2.9 million is lot of money all at once.

“But in the long run, this will be an improvement to town services and for economic development. Residents have a decision to make. The town hasn’t spent money on its buildings in years,” she said.

Len Greaney, a candidate for state Senate District 14, believes the area may be faced with a downturn in economic activities.

“I’m concerned about the business tax. The $2.9 million is a Band Aid. Maybe a new public safety building can be built in the future,” he said arguing against the proposal.

Selectmen Greg Buccina was concerned about the potential impact on the town and its senior citizens.

“What kind of impact will there be if we keep declining in population?” he asked.

Selectmen and architect Jim Reuter of the Bethel firm of Smith Reuter and Lull will review comments from Tuesday’s meeting before next week’s meeting.

Then, said board Chairman Jim Thibodeau, “We’ll try to resolve some of these issues.”

A third option may be available at next week’s meeting.

However, Thibodeau said he has learned that the town just can’t stop spending money on municipal buildings.

“It catches up to you,” he said.

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