Bovina garage plans back to drawing board after meeting

By Matthew J. Perry
On the verge of committing its resources and energy to a new highway garage, the Town of Bovina has pulled the plug on its existing plans.
At a meeting of the town council on June 10, the board voted to rescind an earlier resolution that allowed the town to raise funds for a new garage through municipal bonding. Existing plans for the garage have been shelved, and the future of the project remains uncertain.
“We need to take a step back and regroup,” said board member Evelyn Stewart.
Supervisor Tina Mole opened the meeting by informing the gathering that a cost-cutting measure—opting for wood framing over steel—meant that the project would be eligible only for a 15-year bond, instead of the 25- or 30-year bond the town had expected. Mole declared that the resulting tax increase on the town would be too great for residents to bear.
The board also received a 70-signature petition requesting a referendum vote on the project. The petition, which was presented to Mole by planning board member Lynne Resch, protested against the rescinded resolution and what Resch later described as “irresponsible spending of taxpayers’ moneys.”
Because the existing garage is in disrepair and likely condemnable, the phrase “between a rock and a hard place” was used by several members of the board to describe the town’s position. After reviewing plans through the spring and preparing to finance an $800,000, six-bay structure on the existing site, the board effectively announced that it was back at square one.
“I apologize to those who think this is coming out of left field,” Mole said. “But I don’t think at this time what we’ve proposed is financially possible.”
“I always thought the potential tax increase was more than the town could bear,” said Stewart, who sits on the town highway committee.
Councilman Chuck McIntosh and Highway Superintendent Bob Burgin agreed that the town needs to change direction. But McIntosh also stated plainly that abandoning the existing plans would make it harder for the highway crew to do its job.
Lamont Engineers, which drafted the various plans for the garage, will be paid $7,452 from the town’s Good Neighbor Fund. The board resolved to retain Lamont’s services to pursue plans for a downsized garage, perhaps as small as two bays. A garage of that size would not have nearly enough space for the town’s trucks and highway equipment, but it could be expanded in the event more money became available.
An adequate renovation of the existing garage was estimated to cost roughly $200,000, according to Burgin.
Resch stated that many who signed the petition believe that in a volatile economic climate, other methods of doing business, such as shared services and privatization, should be considered. Board members discussed other options, such as the sale of town land near the transfer station and a town inventory and tax re-evaluation, as a means to supplement roughly $200,000 in the Good Neighbor Fund.
During discussion of the matter, the board repeatedly came back to the pressure of rising fuel and construction costs to explain its reluctance to proceed. “I don’t think our projected budget has ever been so unpredictable,” said council member Mary Jo Robson.
Mole pointed out that all other major engineering projects, such as the town sewers and sidewalks, were accomplished with significant grants. “With nothing beyond the town’s limited resources to draw on,” she said, “we’re struggling even to build a $300,000 garage.”
The delay and regrouping, while keeping the town out of a financial hole, come with other risks. While presenting several garage plans in March, Lamont engineer Doug Van Deusen pointed out that construction costs had risen dramatically in the past five years, and that there was little reason to assume that this trend would reverse, or even slow down. Should costs continue to increase, the town might not have the resources to expand on a two-bay garage in the future.
Meanwhile, after a recent rainstorm, it was reported that three inches of water had collected on the floor of the existing garage.
“What do we have to do to make the highway department safe?” asked one resident.
“That’s the $64,000 question,” replied council member Ken Brown.
Another resident asked if a solution could be found before the old garage is condemned. “I hope so,” Mole replied.