BETHEL – About 60 people turned out for Thursday night’s public hearing on three referendum issues and several ordinance amendments. They endured 150 minutes of sweltering humidity in the Crescent Park School cafeteria.

Two of the referendum questions involve capital improvement projects for a new fire station and ambulance barn expansion while the third deals with police coverage.

Referendum question one asks if the town will OK the design, construction and equipping of a 10,000-square-foot fire station to replace the existing 5,000-square-foot facility and authorize selectmen to borrow up to $1.3 million for project costs.

Referendum question two asks voters to approve the design, construction and equipping of an ambulance station to improve existing facilities by borrowing up to $150,000.

Selectmen voted 3-1 to recommend approving both questions, while the Budget Committee deadlocked at 6-6 on the fire station referendum and voted 7-5 against the ambulance barn renovations.

Referendum questions go before town meeting voters Tuesday, June 10.

Over the past four years, selectmen have spent $118,000 in architectural studies, firming the $1.3 million cost for a new fire station and buying nearly an acre to house the station.

Pending voter approval, however, the new station will be constructed at the old station’s site, opposite the common.

And that didn’t sit well with area businessman Ron Savage, who has been a Bethel resident for the past two weeks.

“I think the task to design a building on that site was a mistake,” said Savage, a former Greenwood resident. He also says both the Fire Department and Bethel Rescue and Ambulance Service should be combined.

Selectmen’s Chairman Harry Dresser Jr., however, said the board looked at sites all over town to find one that was suitable, but in the end, settled on the present location.

“Folks coming into this (process) late don’t realize that this has been years getting to this place,” he added.

The board ruled out rehabbing the station. Selectmen also investigated combining both the fire department and ambulance service into one building, but the price tag came in at a hefty $1.9 million.

“We have the best ambulance service and Fire Department as far as I know, and we need new facilities for both,” Selectman Al Barth said. “The original plans called for combining both services up there, but it would have cost an exorbitant fee. And there’s no way we would take that to the public.”

Barth said he believes that Bethel should regionalize its fire and ambulance services with Newry, Gilead and Greenwood as a cost-sharing measure.

However, Assistant Chief Mike Jodrey said firefighters already have regionalized with those towns through mutual aid.

“We all purchase different equipment, and we all work together to spread out the cost,” Jodrey said.

Current expansion plans for Bethel Ambulance Service call for essentially doubling the building’s size. The addition would create two sleeping quarters, a kitchen, an office and a day room.

Additionally, the structure would have a better, less hazardous, storage plan.

Bethel Ambulance Service is a volunteer emergency medical service that is part of the municipality of Bethel. It was created in the early 1970s and its call volume has continually expanded.

Bethel Rescue crewman Dustin Howe said last year the service saw an 11 percent increase in calls, but this year, so far, they’ve had a 13 percent increase.

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