With petition, Bernardston seeks $1M for Fire Station expansion earmarked in bond bill

  • The house at 12 Church St. in Bernardston was demolished in October as the town readied the site for future construction of its Fire Station addition. Staff Photo/Paul Franz

Staff Writer
Published: 11/7/2021 3:00:32 PM

BERNARDSTON — A petition requesting the $1 million that was previously earmarked in a 2018 bond bill to benefit the town’s Fire Station expansion has garnered 537 signatures, and has been sent to state legislators seeking their support.

The petition was started in August. Last week, it was sent alongside letters to state senators, representatives and Gov. Charlie Baker, “in the hopes of opening eyes, far and wide, to the million dollars that was assured to Bernardston in the bond bill,” Town Coordinator Louis Bordeaux said during a Selectboard meeting.

Selectboard members said the town previously believed it was set to receive $1 million from a 2018 bond bill, H.4549, the cycle for which closes in 2022. Selectboard members Brian Keir and Robert Raymond shared with the Greenfield Recorder an email exchange between former Town Coordinator Hugh Campbell and state Rep. Paul Mark, D-Peru, from Nov. 17, 2017, in which Mark wrote to let Bernardston know the bond bill had passed the House and included the language, “provided further that $1,000,000 shall be expended for the renovation or construction of a fire station in the town of Bernardston.”

When the bond bill passed in 2018, the Selectboard expected it would receive the funding, and Campbell said at the time that the money was “authorized but not (yet) appropriated” for the town’s use. In 2020, Bernardston was told it did not meet the requirements, including the need for a “shovel ready” plan, to release the money. With a plan for a four-bay garage, parking lot and office space on Church Street approved, the board is now seeking the $1 million.

“We thought we had that money waiting for us to access it,” Selectboard Chair Robert Raymond said on Friday.

State Sen. Jo Comerford, D-Northampton, who was not elected into office until 2019 after the bond bill had been approved, explained that bond bills do not guarantee that towns will receive anything.

“Bond bills are authorizations to bond or to borrow, and getting an item earmarked within a bond bill does not guarantee a community or entity will get that money,” she said. “And it’s heartbreaking that Bernardston had been counting on that money.”

Comerford said “more money goes in than ever comes out of bond authorizations,” and “unfortunately, they are not a guarantee of payment like a grant or loan.” Following their own discussions, Bordeaux reached out through the Small Town Administrators of Massachusetts, and heard from more than 10 towns across the state with similar stories of earmarked money that was never released to them.

One of the letters sent to state offices last week was written by Selectboard member Stanley Garland and argues that, because the bond bill included the word “shall” in its language, Bernardston feels the money is warranted.

“The letter included the definition of the word ‘shall’ and to a layman when you look at language like that, it’s just cut and dry. There should be no reason at all why we’re getting that money withheld,” Bordeaux said during last week’s Selectboard meeting.

“We’re just trying to do everything we can to help the town as far as financing this thing,” Raymond said.

According to Bordeaux, Mark, who recently announced a campaign for state Senate, had confirmed he received the petition and letters.

Progress so far

In April 2020, the town officially obtained the 12 Church St. lot neighboring the current Fire Station. The property belonging to late resident Frank “Bud” Foster was originally offered as a donation to the town for use to house its expanded Fire Station five years ago. The house on the property was demolished in October as the town readied the site for future construction.

In May, voters approved borrowing up to $3 million for the project at Annual Town Meeting. Support was secured in the May 10 election, when a 133 to 68 vote passed Question 2 seeking a debt exclusion to pay for the bond needed to build the Fire Station addition.

Zack DeLuca can be reached at zdeluca@recorder.com or 413-930-4579.


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