Fire Department to seek funding to rebuild fire barn

Thu, 07/16/2020 - 6:15pm

New Shoreham technically started its fiscal year about two weeks ago, on July 1, but the town is operating on a municipal budget that was rolled over from last year. That will change when the town meets for its rescheduled Financial Town Meeting on July 27 at 7 p.m. The meeting will take place in the Block Island School gymnasium at 7 p.m., and if there is an overflow crowd the school cafeteria will be opened up.

The budget, as approved by the Town Council, reflects a modest 1.8 percent increase over last year’s appropriation, coming in at $15,241,210. That total may or may not change when the vote is tallied on July 27.

Several line items are being level-funded, reduced, or de-funded. Capitol projects are also being scrapped, including any new monies for equipment or upgrades at the Harbors Department, Highways, the Fire Department, Recreation, police vehicles, and upgrades at Heinz Field.

Already, some town departments are seeking to have some funding restored. The members of the Fire Department met on Monday, July 13 and, according to Chief Kirk Littlefield, the department members felt that improvements to the Fire Barn were more essential than the broadband project.

“Would you rather have $3 or $4 million allocated for a new building, which is more essential than the broadband, instead of spending $8 million on broadband which could possibly be funded by the federal government,” Littlefield said. He said the Fire Barn is in bad shape.

“You open the bay doors and the whole front of the building moves. We have $4 or $5 million of equipment standing inside of it. It houses the town’s equipment for a very essential service,” said Littlefield. “Everything keeps getting put on the back burner for the Fire and Rescue that everybody depends on. Everybody.”

Although the price tag for the broadband project has come in at about $8 million, town Finance Director Amy Land said that cost is an “up to $8 million figure” that will be offset eventually by the collection of fees, taxes and perhaps a federal grant.

The reason for the $8 million cost is that “we need to have the upfront cash” to cover firstyear operating and administrative costs, and to ensure that the town has enough money to cover the costs of infrastructure and installation if, by chance, 100 percent of the municipal population opts into getting connected to the system. Land said she doubts that will happen, but in case it did the town did not want to run out of cash. The final cost of the project “is dependent on the number of customers,” said Land.

As to the cost for equipment and installation, that “will be recovered through the rates, but we need to be able to have everyone acquire their equipment,” Land said.

There is also “the potential subsidy if the town is successful in securing a subsidy” from the Federal Communications Commission’s Rural Digital Opportunity Fund. If the town is successful in securing those monies, Land said the town could get up to $2.5 million subsidies over a 10 year period. “That reduces our debt service by half,” said Land. “That’s a very significant contribution to the capitol portion of this project.”

Then there is the question as to “how does the $8 million trickle down to each person,” said Land. “That’s the tricky question that everyone is talking about.”

The model the Broadband Committee has been using is a homeowner with a residence valued at $1 million. The broadband tax was estimated at $23 a month for that subscriber. That money goes into a bucket to help pay off the debt. Even if that homeowner opts not to connect to the internet service, that tax will still be levied, according to Land. If the homeowner does become a subscriber, there will be a $32 a month charge for operating and maintenance costs. The high-speed internet service costs will be $30 a month, and if telephone service is added, that will cost another $20 a month.

The total cost for that representative household is $105 a month, including the initial $23 tax. What each household pays will then be determined by the services they each subscribe to.