TUPPER LAKE - Village residents voted Tuesday in favor of building a new emergency services building to house the village fire and police departments.
The approval gives the village permission to borrow $3.2 million to build a $4.5 million building on Santa Clara Avenue to replace the departments' current locations, both of which are too small, unsafe and aren't accessible to people with disabilities.
The final count was 364 votes in favor of the new building, 298 against it and 27 votes not counted. They were cast provisionally, but with the margin of votes in favor, they wouldn't have made a difference.
From left, Tupper Lake firefighters Mark Picerno, David “Haji” Maroun and Royce Cole celebrate once they realize there are enough votes to pass a referendum on a new fire station Tuesday night.
(Enterprise photo — Jessica Collier)
Poll workers said the flow of voters was steady all day Tuesday, and they barely had a chance to sit down and eat pizza between groups of people.
Polls closed at 9 p.m., and it took village officials almost an hour to count the 681 paper ballots cast in the special election in the basement of the Goff-Nelson Memorial Library. Nathan Race, the village's attorney out of Malone, pulled the half-page pink paper ballots out of a metal box and placed them to one side or the other, depending on the vote. Ron LaScala, a village resident and strong proponent of the project, arranged the yes votes into piles of 20, and village Clerk Mary Casagrain did the same for the no votes.
Firefighters and other supporters of the project milled around nervously with butterflies in their stomachs as each of the piles grew.
"It's awfully quiet in here," village Mayor Paul Maroun said as people intently watched the ballot piles grow.
They cheered in excitement when the stacks of ballots on LaScala's side appeared to be enough to pass the referendum, and they cheered again when the final vote count was announced.
"We are very ecstatic about the results of tonight's vote," said Mark Picerno, who was head of the department through most of the process.
"We want to thank the village people more than anything," said village Trustee David "Haji" Maroun, also a member of the fire department.
Sean Foran, a consultant from Heuber-Breuer Construction hired by the village to help plan the project, noted that many people worked hard to bring it to this point. The proposal was created over almost a year-and-a-half of meetings of a committee made up of town, village, fire and police department and taxpayer representatives.
"It's nice to see that the community came out and supported their fire and police station," Foran said.
Paul Maroun said that while some village residents said the taxpayers couldn't afford the project, the majority saw the need for it outweighing the cost.
"I think that the majority of the people in Tupper Lake understood the time is right for a new fire station," Maroun said. "They also realize that the police are working in deplorable conditions, and it's time to do the right thing. That's why I pushed for it."
Maroun noted that new digs for the police and fire departments were two of his major goals when he ran for mayor two years ago.
"We're going to make it possible at the least cost to the taxpayers in the town and in the village," Maroun said. "I will certainly meet with the town supervisor shortly to try and work out an arrangement where everybody is treated equally and nobody is charged more than they should be."
Town officials earlier Tuesday said they are having trouble coming to terms with the village on the cost sharing of the project between the two municipalities. The town contracts with the village for fire protection, since the village owns the fire department.
Police Chief Eric Proulx, reached by phone this morning, said he looks forward to getting into it sometime next year. He said the new station will lack some long-term storage, but he is making arrangements to use the current station's old cell block for storage when they move out. The department also will continue to use the garage behind the current station, since the new station will only have one carport for police.
"That was something we discussed and came to an agreement to at one of the committee meetings," Proulx said.
But he said that as long as what is built is similar to what he's seen on paper, "I'll be happy with it."
Fire Commissioner Rick Donah, who pushed the project through a feasibility study and into the referendum, said Tuesday night that he was thrilled, but he noted in a tired voice that there's a lot more work to actually get the structure built.
Donah said the next steps are to engineer the building, work out a financial agreement with the town and figure out the grant situation. Foran has said the village looks like it's in good shape to get $1.3 million in grant funding for the project, but it needs final approval before he can get confirmation.
The project is expected to be ready for construction by early August and completed by June 2014.
Contact Jessica Collier at 891-2600 ext. 26 or email@example.com.