Public comments from the floor caused the Syracuse Town Council to abruptly change its agenda during its regular monthly meeting Tuesday night. Several residents from Oakwood Park came to comment on the proposed renovations to Syracuse Fire Station No. 1.
During public comments on agenda items, members of the public are given two minutes to speak to the council. Larry Lane, president of the Oakwood Property Owners Association, spoke first. “This is not a comment about the fire fighters and EMS,” Lane said expressing concern about the cost of the station renovation.
According to Lane, there has been no review and he suggested three options be explored. The other two options he suggested would be to look at buying a house close to the station or do a first level renovation. Lane expressed concern with the footing and putting stress on the foundation for a second story.
He also said he hasn’t seen anything on size requirements for showers, the dorm rooms and the day room. “I do believe we’re in a real tax situation and there are a lot of people who are complaining about their taxes,” Lane said.
Rick Williams, another Oakwood Park resident, questioned the cost. “It seems like tax dollars are not being adequately reviewed. There just doesn’t seem to be any slow down,” Williams said. He questioned how a sprinkler system could be left out of the drawings. “I’m just getting concerned this is a runaway fire truck,” he added.
Council President Bill Musser cut Williams off saying his time was up, but councilman Larry Siegel complained, asking that members of the public be given more time. Musser said Williams was actually given more than the allotted time to voice his concerns. Musser and councilman Brian Woody represent the Syracuse Town Council on the Turkey Creek Fire Territory Board.
Siegel noted Musser always says no one comes to the meetings and now that several did they were not being heard. “We appreciate your comments … What I’ve heard here is not correct,” Musser said, referring to the review of the plans and the cost of the project.
Musser explained the project started in March 2012. He further explained the sprinkler system was left out because of an oversight regarding state law. He also pointed out the original bid to do the project was $669,000 and it has been reduced to $541,000.
Siegel asked for an analysis on purchasing a house to provide dorm rooms for the fire fighters. Musser said that option was looked at and rejected due to the inconvenience of having fire fighters run back and forth, especially in the winter. Such a move would also increase response times with supplies being stored off site.
Siegel pointed out Nappanee Fire Department uses a house and has not had anyone die due to a delay, nor has it increased response times. “We’re here to approve or disapprove the renovation of the fire station, not look at options,” Musser said.
Musser said an additional 3,900 square feet is needed for the fire department. “You’re looking at what’s needed today. We’re looking at a station that will work for the next 20 years,” Musser told Siegel.
Siegel also questioned why the renovations required a second story instead of a first floor addition. Musser explained it would eliminate parking but Siegel countered, “There’s lots of parking.” Musser then challenged his councilmate saying Siegel has complained for months about parking for the Farmers and Artisan Market across the street.
Siegel then complained the work reviewing the options on the fire station has not be done. “What they’re asking is that these other options be explored,” he said, then made the following motion: “I am making the motion to respect the very valid concerns of these taxpayers, and the many others they represent, by fully exploring and quantifying the other viable solutions to the fire fighters and paramedics needs by not approving the $541,000 until other, least expensive options are explored to the satisfaction of the town council, the Turkey Creek Township and the tax payers of Turkey Creek Township.”
During discussion, Woody noted the Syracuse residents portion for the renovation is 14 percent of the cost which is $75,740 based on assessed value. “Three boards over the last two years have explored all the options,” Musser said.
The vote was 3-2 with Woody, Musser and councilwoman Kathy Beer voting against Siegel’s motion. Paul Stoelting was in favor of the motion. Woody then moved to approve $550,000 to renovate the station. Musser asked those in attendance to visit the station and see the conditions the fire fighters work in.
“The cost of the fire territory has increased,” Musser said. “We went from one station to two, reducing response times and we’ve hired six more people. We have a good department and we need to give the fire fighters what they need.”
Siegel added, “No one questions the needs. What is in question is one option has been quantified. Other options that other stations use have not been considered. The question is why was the most expensive solution offered?” Woody disagreed, saying the most expensive solution was not selected.
The vote was 3 to 2 with Woody, Musser and Beer voting for the renovation and Siegel and Stoelting standing firm against the renovation.