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Lanesborough voters reject public safety complex at special town meeting

Lanesborough vote

More than 350 Lanesborough voters attended a special town meeting Thursday. The town has been deeply divided over plans to build a police station. Voters rejected that plan in a secret ballot.

LANESBOROUGH — Voters overwhelmingly rejected a $5.9 million plan to build a public safety complex at the driving range of the Skyline Country Club at 405 South Main St.

The secret ballot was 139 in favor and 214 against, with some casting votes electronically with electronic clickers and others casting paper ballots.

Lanesborough Select Board members cool to cop station proposal at Berkshire Mall 'deathtrap'

There was a bit of initial confusion in the electronic balloting, requiring Town Clerk Beth Carroll to close the ballot and reopen it for voting.

The 353 voters at the special town meeting Thursday packed the gymnasium at the Lanesborough Elementary School and spoke passionately about both the need for the police station and EMS building with the high cost associated with the plan backed by the Police Building Committee.

Kristen Tool, chair of the Police Building Committee, answered multiple questions about the availability of grant funding and loans, one of which she said has been secured for $1 million.

Speakers in favor of the plan pointed to the long planning process, rising costs and interest rates if approval is delayed.

Speakers against said the design isn’t sound and the cost is too high.

Finance Chair Jodi-Lee Szczepaniak-Locke explained her reason for dissent in the Finance Committee’s 3-to-1 recommendation for the plan.

“I did a lot of research and I’m extremely concerned about the economic strata within our small community,” Szczepaniak-Locke said. “We’re a town of 2,980 people that live in our community with 1,137 being of the age of 60 years and older, so that’s 38 percent of you that could be on a fixed income, including the percentage of 44.6 percent our students from Lanesborough Elementary School qualifying for free or reduced lunch.

Newest estimate pegs the cost of a new Lanesborough police station at nearly $6 million

“We are not a rich community, and the long-term effects of this size of building I am extremely concerned about,” she said. “We talk about insurance, we talk about heat, electricity. I think we have gone too large. I think that we have spoken about a 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. ambulance crew and I'm concerned that that's going to grow out of proportion to the need that we have.”

Her comments received applause as did those of speakers both for and against funding the proposal.

Selectman Michael Murphy spoke in favor of the proposal.

Lanesborough voters

Lanesborough voters line up to cast paper ballots on a warrant article that would have authorized the town to build a new police station at the former Skyline Country Club driving range.

“I agree that there's no guarantee that we could get ARPA money in grants. There is one thing that we won't get it and that's if we don't approve this. That's number one. Number two, the police are in a temporary space that is not adequate and is only paid for through ARPA money, for I believe two years. I spoke with the chief the other day.

“He had to have a meeting with four families to mediate a dispute. He had to do it in the lobby of the current location. The design has been designed by someone with 30 years or more of experience. It's meant for our town. That's the person who did the assessment, who did the scorecards, who did the site reviews. We have an excellent plan here that we will never have again. Our police deserve it. Our ambulance staff do not deserve to sleep on couches, to shower in bathrooms that are the same temperature as outside, has nothing to do with relationships, getting kicked out or what has been going on for 50 years. They deserve a good location to work out of as to our police department, not only now but for the next 40 years.”

Jane Kaufman is Community Voices Editor at The Berkshire Eagle. She can be reached at jkaufman@berkshireeagle.com or 413-496-6125.

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