Newtown Hook & Ladder President Rick Camejo told the Board of Finance and First Selectman Pat Llodra Monday evening that the Trinity Church congregation voted to sell a parcel of land off Church Hill Road to the volunteer fire company to be used as a site for their new headquarters.
Mr Camejo said he has not put his signature on any contracts yet, but six months of negotiations culminated last weekend when congregation members voted to sell the piece of property. He said the parcel will permit Hook & Ladder to share a common driveway that also accesses rear parking behind the church at the corner of Main Street and Church Hill Road.
The fire company official also indicated that the company would like to access the first installment of a $1.5 million allocation set aside for Hook & Ladder’s project in the Capital Improvement Plan although the full amount was originally intended exclusively for the construction phase of the project versus acquiring the land on which to build the new headquarters.
Mrs Llodra hailed the good news, saying it represented the “end of a long, long, long initiative” for the fire company, which has been housed in an unsafe and substandard facility behind Edmond Town Hall.
She said officials will have to reconcile the “intent of the donor,” the town, in terms of reallocating the first $500,000 for the land purchase versus capitalizing the building itself.
“We have to be very formal in this relationship, so there is work ahead of you,” Mrs Llodra said.
Board of Finance Chairman John Kortze told his board that there would be plenty of time for board members to ask questions about the project because appropriations will be coming up in front of the panel at several points in the future.
Mr Kortze said the board needs to understand how the financial relationship between the town and the fire company will work.
“Some of the concerns we had are how the town will facilitate the plan so you can realize what you want to do,” Mr Kortze said. “The legality is another issue, because the town will be the guarantor. It will be helpful to see where all the dollars shake out.”
Mr Kortze also reminded those in attendance that during a previous meeting on the Hook & Ladder project, it was indicated that the $1.5 million allocation might not be enough to complete the building.
Mrs Llodra said the finance board will have to work with the town attorney to work out details on shifting town funding from the building phase to being used partly to underwrite the land purchase.
“We’re looking at this relationship as a way to position Hook & Ladder to be like all the other fire companies that own their own houses,” she said. But since the town owns the fire company’s current headquarters, the town crafted the CIP allocation so the company could achieve the goal of becoming independent of town-owned facilities.
“What’s important is to be clear about the purpose of the money, and to create some legal framework around that so it is understood [the money] is a grant we are gifting to Hook & Ladder,” she said.
Finance board Vice Chair Joe Kearney said that the town needs to install language in any agreement so the town is in line for reimbursement of some or all of the monies granted in the unlikely event the fire company was to dissolve. Mr Kearney asked why the town could not buy the land and lease it to Hook & Ladder to build on, so the land would become an asset of the town while clarifying ownership of the parcel.
Mrs Llodra said she will need to call in the town attorney to hammer out any details.
Mr Camejo said Hook & Ladder was looking to enter into a mortgage for the entire project, including the parcel. He noted that if the town owns the land, it would likely increase the cost of the project because prevailing wages would be required for labor, versus current plans to use nonunion labor to complete the construction.
Mrs Llodra confirmed this was the case with town-owned land the volunteer ambulance corps is building on at Fairfield Hills. In the meantime, Hook & Ladder will head into the land use and permitting process, and are hopeful a groundbreaking could occur as early as next spring.