New fire station site
The Merrill Common Council voted 7-1 Monday night to purchase land on which to build a new fire station. Alderman Chris Malm cast the lone dissenting vote.
The property, owned by BB Snyder LLC, is located across from the Merrill Post Office on East Second Street. The former site of a car dealership, the property has been vacant for a number of years. The city and property owners agreed to a price of $250,000. The purchase is contingent upon completing environmental assessments on the property.
Mayor Bill Bialecki said he doesn’t expect any surprises from the environmental assessment. Portions of the property have been previously examined without contamination being found, he said.
The Council made it clear at a special meeting last Tuesday night that they would move forward with construction of a new centralized fire station. The council had previously voted to sell Station #2 in the Sixth Ward to neighboring Agra Industries.
That move, coupled with the inadequacies of the aging Station #1, locks the city into building a new fire station, said City Administrator David Johnson.
“Renovation of Station 1 is not an option,” he said. “We would have to take out the operational part of the building and we could not function that way.”
A site for a new station was discussed at the Sept. 11 council meeting, with the BB Snyder property on Second Street being considered a preferred option. The site is close to the center of town and large enough for a fire station.
Having already publicly discussed that site as a preferred option, the council had put itself in a poor position for negotiating a price with the landowner, noted Alderperson Ann Caylor.
“We’re kind of tipping our hand,” Caylor said.
Johnson and Mayor Bill Bialecki had discussed the city’s interest in the property with the landowner, who had offered to sell to the city for $250,000, less than the assessed value.
During last Tuesday’s meeting, City Attorney Tom Hayden cautioned the council about further discussing negotiating strategies in open session.
“If you want city staff to negotiate a price, this is not the place to do it,” he said.
The council agreed to have the mayor and city administrator negotiate with the landowner and scheduled a closed session for Monday to discuss the price.
The Council did discuss other possible sites in that area, including the city garage property. Caylor suggested moving the city buses to Fire Station 1 and building the new fire station by the city garage. The problem with building anything on that property, Johnson said, is a history of site contamination due to an old landfill on the site.
“Because of the landfill on that site, that is not land you want to disturb,” Johnson said.
The cost of building a new fire station is estimated at $4 million. With site acquisition and other associated costs, the city would borrow an estimated $4.5 million for the project. The tax impact would be $53 per year on a $75,000 home. The loan would be paid off in 2033.
Alderman Dave Sukow (who was appointed to the council following the vote to sell Station 2) objected to further burdening Merrill taxpayers.
“I guess we’re backed into a corner, and that’s too bad,” he said. “That $53 might throw a lot of people off the edge.”
Alderman John Burgener said if the city is going to move forward it should move quickly.
“The cost is going to keep going up on this if we don’t move on this pretty quick,” he said.
Caylor agreed that the city should move forward.
“I don’t like to spend money but I don’t see at this point that we have a lot of choices,” she said. “Something had to be done with Station 1 even if we hadn’t sold Station 2.”
The Merrill Fire Department is currently cleaning out Station 2 and the sale of that property should be completed in the next couple of weeks, Bialecki said.
For construction of the new centralized fire station, the city is looking at a timeline that begins with contracting with an architectural firm by Oct. 9. According to that timeline, bids would be awarded in April 2013 and the new station would be ready for occupancy in early 2014.