Let’s build a new library, and fire, dispatch and police stations

Published: 12/8/2018 8:10:26 PM

When an opportunity presents itself that betters our community, I believe we should seize the moment. 

Let’s make commitment now to build a new library, fire station, and dispatch center in the next few years, and a police station in the not too distant future. Let’s build quality zero-energy buildings that will save us thousands of dollars every year with very low utility bills and maintenance costs, and help us move toward our commitment of a fossil-fuel-free future!

Understanding financials does not come easily to me, but I think I finally get it, and we can afford it.

Apparently, in the municipal world, it is good practice to have between 8-10 percent of your budget as debt. So, the question is, can we do what we want without exceeding that 10 percent ceiling? The answer presented to the City Council at its October meeting was, YES!

I’d like to compare our town’s economics to that of a fictional family of three that owns a home with a mortgage, and they just learned that one of their parents is coming to live with them, creating the need to expand their home. They also own a very old building that houses their business – a building that no longer meets their needs. Additionally, they have two cars that will need to be replaced at some point.

Last year my fictional family received an inheritance, so they started to rethink their options. They sat down to make a plan that included the cost and timing of each big purchase. They compared the costs of expanding their existing buildings to the possibility of building two new zero-energy buildings that would save them money in the future. They also decided they could hold off buying a new car for at least six years.

Let’s compare our town to my fictional family. Their mortgage is comparable to the towns’ present debt for the high school, the Jon Zon Community Center, garage, and other general debt. Their inheritance is comparable to the $9.4 million grant that we just received for a new library. Building a new library, and a new fire station and dispatch compares to their decision to build both a new home and business facility. The police station is like the cars – put off to the future.

Here the comparison ends, because municipal finances are different from a families’ finances in that the goal is not to get debt to zero, but to keep it between 8 and 10 percent of the budget. Today, Greenfield has about a 9 percent debt, and taking out loans for a new library and fire and dispatch will push us over the 10 percent limit.

Here is more good news. Time is on our side. Our debt goes down every year.  And we will not have to start paying for the new buildings until they are completed. And, as mentioned we have the $9.4 million grant, which will cover half of the cost of the library.

When we say YES to the new buildings today, the cost will not come to us until 2024, at which time the new debt for our new library, fire, and dispatch will just fit within the 10 percent limit. As for the final project, the police station, it is projected to fit under the 10 percent debt limit in 2030. There is also the potential of pocketing a few million dollars when the library and police stations are sold, and we will start receiving tax revenue from the new building owners.

Now let’s look at the cost of doing nothing. As with all things old, if we do nothing we will have to repair our existing buildings to keep them functioning. We also know that we will have to meet new requirements for all these buildings. If we do nothing, it is estimated that we will spend well over $10 million, and some estimate it could cost $20 million over the next 10 to 15 years. After those upgrades, the library will still be too small and not handicap accessible, the fire station will still be too small for new fire equipment, and the police station will still be deficient. 

In summary, we’ve known about the need to upgrade town buildings for over 30 years. In 2014, residents made a commitment in our master plan, Sustainable Greenfield, to build a new library and fire station within the next five to 10 years. We now have a $9.4 million grant in hand. While there are still challenges ahead to find the right location for the fire station at the right price, I am optimistic that with persistence we can solve this challenge. 

Let’s say YES! Please come and speak up at the Dec 13, 7 p.m. Library hearing at the Greenfield High School. These new buildings will improve our safety, quality of life and the resilience of our community. Our children and grandchildren will thank us for our vision and efforts.

Nancy Hazard is the former director of the Northeast Sustainable Energy Association, and sits on several city committees. She can be reached at Nancy.Hazard@worldsustain.net.


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