Mark Nickerson - First Selectman
Some comments about our town budget in relation to the state’s budget crisis. March 2019
Our state’s economy continues to slide downward and Connecticut residents are increasingly paying the price. Our state government’s budget crisis dominates the headlines and creates anxiety and worry for all of us. It has put extreme pressure on families and small businesses across our state. It is far more expensive to live (and die) in Connecticut than ever before. And based on the state’s balance sheet, we have not yet hit our bottom.
Because of the state’s fiscal mess, these are tough days for municipalities too. We are caught between reductions in state aid, a mediocre business climate, and rising costs for goods and services. In our town’s budget, health care, liability insurance, energy costs, collective bargaining wages and associated benefits have all significantly out-paced the private sector’s cost of living. Containing costs on the municipal level has been a real challenge for most towns. I’m proud to say that East Lyme has been extremely successful thus far in weathering the storm.
BALANCE IS THE KEY:
East Lyme is a quality town. We all moved here and/or we choose to stay here because of the quality of life and the quality of our schools. Striking a balance between rising property taxes and maintaining the quality of our town is the key. Town leaders on the Boards of Selectmen and Finance as well as every town department head and team member are supremely focused on this mission. We must continue to work to keep our town as affordable as possible WITHOUT losing the quality of our education and town services. Already, we have created an atmosphere where that “equation” or “balance” plays into every single decision we make in our town...365 days a year. We don’t just consider these issues during budget season. Literally, the value of return of the tax money we spend (the ROI) is part of every conversation I have with every town employee and commission member throughout the year.
I delivered a ZERO PERCENT INCREASE in the town’s budget this year. We lost personnel through attrition and consolidation, and we were able to merge or eliminate some services that created new efficiencies. Needless to say, this is a bare bones budget. I’m also pleased that the Board of Education brought forth a no-nonsense budget to the table during the recent budget process. There is NO new programming, services or expansion of our town’s government. Most of our budget goes to labor and the benefits that are provided to our workforce. While we must continue to invest in materials, equipment, maintenance, roads, and other resources, we only do so only after an exhausting process of scrutinizing every detail and measuring each item’s value.
The entire town’s leadership---department heads, supervisors, commissioners and board members ---know that we are in survival mode right now. We are struggling to keep taxes and expenses as low as possible yet we are still trying to deliver the high quality of town services and programming that our residents have come to love and expect. I thank each and every member of our community for the support you give our town. I am always here for a conversation, a suggestion or comment. It’s an honor to serve you.
Public Safety Building Q&A
Q. What’s physically wrong with the current building?
A. We have several mechanical, environmental and safety issues with the current facility that need to be corrected immediately. Mechanical: after years of repairs and fees, our Heat, Ventilation and Air Conditioning system needs to be totally replaced. In addition, the large generator is beyond repair and would need to be totally replaced and rewired. (Both the HVAC and generators have failed during critical times during the past year). The roof has been patched almost yearly when leaks occur, but like any flat-roof, time has come to replace the roof. Lastly, the bricks/mortar on the building would need to be replace or resurfaced. The walls actually leak when the wind blows from the south.
Because of the constant water leaks from the roof, walls, and from the ground, there are some serious concerns of health issues from the personnel that work in this environment. Remediation of mold and mildew have occurred but it has not been enough.
Q. Arrests in East Lyme have been on the decline since 2010. It doesn’t really look like we need a massive investment in order to increase deterrence or something like that.
A. Crime trends are used for modeling in staffing and/or deployments of personnel; they are not part of the mitigation strategy for life/safety and operational effectiveness. Call volume for police (and fire/EMS) are at an all-time high in East Lyme and across our region. Our public safety personnel are called upon to serve the community in many ways that crime statistics will never show.
Q. Will it be a problem that it is not centrally located?
A. Unlike fire stations, police stations do not need to be centrally located. Patrol cars on the road are the officers who respond to calls. There are dozens of communities in our area where police stations are not located in the geographic center or commercial center of a town/city. Our police force wholeheartedly endorse this project.
Q. Is an increase in civilian personnel required to operate the new facility in support of the department?
A. No increase in civilian personnel is required to occupy this building
Q. Are new radio repeaters part of the $6 Million?
A. A new tower and all associated equipment are part of the $6.0 Million request.
Q. The cost numbers are not adding up. We can basically build a brand new building for the retrofitting cost they’re quoting.
A. The average cost for new Public Safety construction, in 2018 money, is $516 per sq foot. This is a fact. We have taken all public safety construction projects over the past several years and averaged the price. No construction project was under $500/sqft. A 30,000 sq foot building in 2020 would be approximately $15 million plus escalation costs.
Q. Why do we need 17 acres?
A. We don’t NEED 17 acres. The building sits on a 17 acre lot. That opens up opportunity in the future for other municipal needs. The police will need a secure parking lot for personal vehicles, police vehicles and an impound lot. The current location’s paring is not secured and therefore not in compliance with minimal police standards.
I’m hopeful we can move our school bus depot to this spot. (Currently the busses are improperly parked on our aquifer. The current spot (across from the middle school) was supposed to be a temporary situation.
In the future, we may be able to use the extra acreage for a dog park, a kayak launch into the Four Mile River or sell some of the property and recoup some of our expense (it is zoned Industrial).
Q. I am aware the East Lyme is leasing the current building from Dominion. I’ve heard it said that the town will “profit” from the sale of the building. How is that possible? Who gets the sale commission?
A. It is true that the town is leasing the building from Dominion. This was to be a temporary agreement (3-4 years) to bridge needs of the town as it explored a permanent public safety facility. It has been 14 years. As part of that original agreement, the town can purchase the facility for $1. We have not exercised this option due to environmental clean-up needs that were discovered in a Phase 2 study. The plan is to buy the building once we receive a state grant for a brownfield clean-up of the property. (This property is well-qualified). When appropriate, the town will sell the property for economic development on our Main Street. Profits from the sale will go to reduce the debt of the new project.
The broker for this transaction is Nathan Lamb of CB Richard Ellis out of Chicago. He handles all Honeywell real estate transaction in the U.S.A.
Q. The video says that commercial building costs are $512 per sq foot. This is completely absurd
based upon everything I’ve seen. Building Journal says we could build it for $4.8 million. So even if you believe everything the town is claiming about need why isn’t it built brand new (exactly to our spec) on the land we already own across from the prison? That would save over $1M and it is a better location.
A. Recent data from 15 public safety projects in Connecticut show that the average cost is $516 per sq foot. Out-of-state Public Safety projects are showing an average cost of $531 per sq foot. The parcel of land, across from the correctional facility, was gifted to the Town in 2005 with
deed restrictions that it can only be used as open space, no construction allowed. The proposal and referendum in 2007 was to build a facility on State of CT land adjacent to the open space. That proposal was $14 million. See Comparison Tables and Charts.
Q. Could we relocate the building and land departments downtown. Then relocate the police department in the lower level of the town hall?
A. Since the Town Hall is in the Millstone 2 mile evacuation zone, a critical infrastructure building should not be located in that zone. Additionally, the police space requirements would take the entire town hall building. The Main Street building is less than half the size of the current town hall.
Q. It would be nice to know how they determined the price of the property. What it cost in 1998 should have no bearing on determining a fair price for a 2018 sale.
A. In May of 2018, two East Lyme commercial real estate brokers visited the building and then conducted a market analysis to determine the current market value of the building; that is how the $2.775 was determined. They used “comps”; comparing the space, quality and location of the building compared to other office buildings in the state to determine the value of the property.
Q. The Town should have just condemned Niantic Center School, torn it down, consolidated the kids to a new campus built around the Middle School/Haynes grounds and used that Niantic Center School property for a Police, Fire, Ambulance, Town Hall campus. We could have sold off the old properties to alleviate the final bill, everyone would have brand new facilities and it would be centrally located. Instead we want to spend $6 million to move to the border of town, which only makes sense if we are policing Old Lyme now.
A. That exact plan was discussed and was one of the original elementary school plan solutions. There were actually 2 scenarios, one was to evacuate Niantic Center, the other was to abandon Lillie B. Hanyes school. Both of these option were seriously considered. The problem: both of these options would have cost $85 million for the school construction alone. Space needs would have required drastic renovation to one of the schools (build as new) and a mach larger, new Flanders School built behind the current school. In addition, a significant renovation project would have been needed to prepare the abandoned school for police, town hall, etc.
The town chose to reduce the cost of the school projects to a simple renovation of all three schools at a reduced price. This option was chosen because we had a need to also build a police station (at the time, we were assuming the cost of a new building would be needed at $12 million). It was always part of the plan.
Q. I kind of liked having the police in the middle of shopping & all. Walking around at night, I felt so safe. Shame they’re moving to the edge of town.
A. While the outside of the building and it’s location might be “charming”, inside, it is inefficient, unsafe, and is not necessarily in an appropriate location. You may feel safe having a police station on Main St while you are shopping and dining, but because many of the police functions are in other locations (dispatch, lock-up), the police building is not open to the public 64% of the time.
Q. What services cannot be completed now as a result of limitations of the current building?
A. Services that are provided are done so inspire of our location. Our police deliver outstanding service to our community while hampered with space needs, services located in other locations, and unsafe and unhealthy working conditions. The building was never designed to function as a police or public safety facility. The renovation of the building was meant to last no more than 3-4 years while we built a new facility. Security of the facility, our employees, & visitors to a police station should be a primary concern. The current facility fails on every point. Additionally, the building has continued to develop environmental concerns for the 25 employees that work there.
Q. Why now?
A. The town failed twice to have proposals for a new facility approved. 15 and 12 years ago. The current police station was supposed to be a temporary situation while we settled on a permanent solution. In the mean time, our elementary schools were showing serious signs of failure. A decision was made to “leap frog” the school project over the police station. We always knew that the public safety building was a necessary project in the near future. In the meantime, the current police building has reached a point of failure in many of the “systems” and our infrastructure needs have changed. The Heating and Air Conditioning system MUST be replaced. It failed several times last summer. Additionally the generator is beyond another repair. The police station did not have electricity during power outages last year. (no phones, no computers, no lights. not good). We have had significant water in the building over the past couple years. The roof has been patched annually but is at the point of needing a new roof. The souther wall leaks and the bricks and mortar would need to be “repointed”. Lastly, water rose up from the floor last year when it was discovered that the building actually sits on a store drain. Rising water in the building during a significant rainfall in the early summer caused significant damage to weapons, ammunition, rugs, and other material.
Q. How long has the new building being considered vacant?
A. It is fully occupied and operational; the current tenant plans on moving sometime in January 2019.
Q. Has a comprehensive study been completed on the building being considered to identify capital projects which may be needed as a result of age and/or vacancy (this does not include the remodel costs)?
A. No capital projects are needed due to age. The building is in terrific shape. Newer HVAC, roof, carpeting, and a new fiber optic line in to the building.
Q. How many bids will be considered for the remodel?
A. Typically three or more. This is part of our purchasing plan that the Board of Selectmen updated this past year (but was in common practice for decades). The town’s building committee will oversee the bid process.
Q. What happened to the land that was previously purchased near Bridebrook Park?
A. We never bought any land. We were gifted 9 acres across from Bridebrook Park. It is mostly wetlands and has a conservation easement on the land. We were going to use this property to access state land behind it (which was never obtained). To build a new, modest building anywhere in town would be $10-12 million. This site and its accompanying plan was rejected twice by voters 12 years ago.
Q. This has been called “a 15-year problem”. What does that mean?
A. Proposals to build a public safety facility in not new in East Lyme. We have had serious proposals to find a permanent solution to this problem twice. The first police building project was proposed almost 15 years ago. Another project was proposed 12 years ago. The police are in a “temporary facility” leased from Dominion for $1 per year. They were moved there in anticipation of one of these proposals being approved and implemented.
Q. What about public forums where we can ask the hard questions?
A. A public forum was held on December 10th, and another is scheduled for January 15, 2019. Citizens can direct questions to the task force at: firstname.lastname@example.org .
Q. The current owner of the property paid $1.45M in 1998. The town would like to buy the property for $2.775M. That is almost doubling the owner’s money. So, the owner gets to walk away with a cool profit of $1.35M in East Lyme taxpayer money (before taxes).
A. The present owner of the building, Honeywell International, acquired the INNCOM International business and assets, including building and land, in June of 2012. Since INNCOM International is a wholly owned subsidiary of Honeywell International, what you see on the assessor’s web site is only INNCOM International, not the true owner, Honeywell International. There is no passive or active ownership by prior owners.
Q. According to FHA.gov a property in our MSA bought for $1.45M in 1998 is only worth $2.5M. So that
indicates that we’re hoping to overpay by $.225M over market.
A. Fair market value was determined by two East Lyme commercial real estate brokers. Comparison values were applied to other office buildings in Connecticut. Recent upgrades to the HVAC, roof, carpeting and the fact that most of the furniture will be left for town use was also considered during the negotiations.
Q. If there is an idea baked in that Old Lyme is going to help shoulder some of this $6 million, then I think it would be extremely wise for EL to get that agreement nailed down before moving forward, because as of now, my understanding after speaking with town officials yesterday, is that OL is likely a ‘no’ on regionalizing.
A. The genesis for purchasing this building is to relocate the ELPD ASAP and save the taxpayers $9 million by NOT constructing a new building. This building is needed regardless of what Old Lyme does. Although we do not anticipate the Old Lyme task force agreeing to merge with East Lyme (due to politics and other issues), I think it is likely in the future.
Q. I still believe it is the better idea to start with building a new facility for the actual needs today. Buying a property that is not up to code for what is needed and trying to restructure it is a step backwards. Any future needed addition of needs can be addressed in the future.
The land across from the Correctional Facility was gifted to the Town in 2005 as open space and deed restrictions prohibit any construction. The Honeywell building is 100% up-to-code. The renovation is for adding dispatch and other police related areas.
Q. What’s wrong with the Triumph building in the Industrial Park area?
A. We seriously looked at the Triumph building. It is twice (57,000 sq feet) as big as necessary and it is an industrial manufacturing space that would need a lot of work to convert. There are many structure and environmental deficiencies. The cost to convert only 1/2 of it would be prohibitive (more than twice the cost of this proposed facility). We would be better off building a new facility than trying to clean-up the Triumph site and then retrofit it into a public safety facility.
Q. What would be the cost to reconstruct the old public works building? It is definitely centrally located we already own it.
A. The buildings at the old public works site (end of Roxbury Road) are all being used. we have already demolished several buildings on that site. There is not enough space in current buildings to handle needs today or in the future. Building a new facility on the site is an option, but an expensive option. $10-12 million plus the cost to demolish remaining buildings to ready the site. The lower portion of the site is in a flood zone and has flooded often over the years. Only the top tier of that site would be available.
Q. Why don’t we build our own new building?
A. Just like building new schools instead of renovating the ones we have, building a new building would be ideal. But the cost is prohibitive…it will be at least twice the cost.
Q. Has the town approached the Department of Corrections to discuss use of their vacant buildings?
A. Yes, the Department of Corrections has been engaged and found that the buildings are in shambles. The buildings at Gates have been left abandoned and uncared for over the past several decades. They cannot be renovated and would need to be razed. Therefore, the cost remains at twice the cost of this proposal.
Send questions to: email@example.com
NEW PUBLIC SAFETY BUILDING PROPOSAL: November 2018
Our town has a need that must be solved. The current police building that was always planned as a temporary facility needs to be replaced. The size, layout, features, and condition of the building cannot be ignored any longer. It cannot be reconfigured to conform to the proper standards without a significant and costly upgrade.
I am proposing a solution.
Our town has had quite a history of trying to solve this problem over the past 15 years. In 2004, a facility was proposed on the grounds of what is now called “Camp Niantic”. The proposal called for a building that would be jointly used by town public safety departments and the National Guard and State of CT emergency management. The cost to the town was about $6.5 million. The proposal was rejected by the Board of Finance and never made it to a referendum. In hindsight, it is too bad our town was not able to act on this plan. We certainly would have been in a better position today had we been bold enough to make this plan a reality.
It was during this time that the growing police force moved from the small building in the town hall parking lot (now the Probate Court) to a temporary facility on Main Street. The building was at one time a Connecticut Light and Power facility. Millstone Power Plant had purchased the building and had a “Discovery Science Center” there until leasing it to the town for $1 per year. A few improvements were made to the building before the police moved in. Again, 278 Main Street had always been considered a temporary police station until a permanent, more suitable solution could be found. Although from the outside, the building appears adequate and perhaps charming on our busy Main Street, inside is a logistical and safety nightmare. Environmental concerns, space needs, and deterioration of the facility must be dealt with. The police department is currently spread between this building, rented facilities in Waterford, and our dispatch center in Flanders.
About three years later, another facility was proposed. The building would be built across from Bridebrook Park on Route 156 on what is state owned land. The facility would house all the public safety departments under one roof including police, fire marshall’s office, emergency management, and dispatch. If the town ever had its own police force, it would have the room for records, jails, and other requirements. The cost for the new facility was $14 million. (actual 2007 dollar value). The proposal made it thru the Boards of Selectmen and Finance however the project was soundly defeated at referendum.
Once again, our town had not reached a definitive conclusion on what do with our police and public safety departments. This last plan was 11 years ago.
THE NEW PLAN
I am proud to announce and make public for the first time a new plan for an East Lyme Public Safety Building. With assistance from members in our community, department heads and specifically the police commission, I have negotiated agreeable terms for the purchase of an existing building that is perfectly suited for our needs, today and for the next 50 years.
The Town of East Lyme has entered into a purchase and sales agreement on The Honeywell Corporation building at 277 West Main Street. The agreement stipulates that we must meet the appropriation approvals that are clearly spelled out in our town charter and ordinance book. Namely, the sale cannot be finalized until it meets the approval of the Board of Selectmen, the Board of Finance, a town meeting and/or a town-wide referendum. According to the agreement, we must be complete with our approval process in 120 days. There will be many public meetings and forums to give our citizens a chance to learn the details of the project and questions to clarify and concerns.
The agreed price for the purchase of the building is $2.775 million. A market and sales analysis conducted earlier this year indicate that this is a fair price for the building and the 14 acres that it sits on. An architect specializing in public safety buildings has already walked the property. His initial estimate for upgrading and repurposing the building to meet the standards of a police building is $3.2 million. In the end, this is a $6 million solution to our lingering problem…less than the combined facility proposed 14 years ago at Camp Niantic and less than half of the cost of our own building that was rejected in 2007.
The current building is still owned by Dominion Energy. I have sat down with leaders from Dominion and we have agreed to working together in a public/private partnership to find a suitable use for the building. The goal is to create a great retail, restaurant, and/or residential space in the heart of Main Street. Dominion is a valued partner and will work with our town to bring the right use for this space.
The location of the building will create some discussion. The location is on the Southwest edge of our town. While it would be ideal to have this facility in the middle of our town, it simply isn’t the case. The police will tell testify that it will not matter. Police officers that are patrolling throughout the town are the officers that respond to calls and alarms. In addition, the quick access to the Rocky Neck Connect makes access to all points in town just minutes away.
The Town of East Lyme and the Town of Old Lyme began discussions last year about the possibility of combining our police force in an effort to regionalize our services to provide better coverage, share equipment and facilities, and save taxpayer money. If the discussions progress to a real plan, the public safety facility will be ideally located. The discussions are still on-going.
COMMUNICATION GOING FORWARD
This proposal has been in planning for a long time. While the P&S agreement calls for a decision within 120 days (March 15th), we’ve been at work on this plan for over 18 months. The police commission along with members of a task have done research, gather pertinent information, and reviewed option so that we would be well-prepared once this announcement could be made public.
Through the use of social media, the town’s website, local media, and a series of public forums, I am hopeful to get the details directly to our citizens. I will be available to answer questions and research necessary details during regular business hours at the town hall for anyone who would like to discuss this plan. I will be scheduling a couple public hearings with presentations that will spell out the need to upgrade our facilities and why this plan makes the most sense.
Lastly, I wish to reiterate the importance of this project. The current facility is inadequate in ways that can no longer be ignored. The plan proposed is the least expensive plan that meets our current needs and will serve our needs for the next 50+ years. I wish we didn’t have to face this project…after-all, we are still finishing up the school rehab project. I wish it was something that the town had properly planned for years ago. But we must move forward.
This is the last big project for our town for years and years to come. I am proud of this project and I am grateful to those who have assisted me in putting this plan together.