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Bring it to a vote

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There are perhaps no municipal agencies whose needs top those of a community’s fire department.

Public safety is the primary responsibility of any governmental entity, and members of our local fire departments have the weight of the world on their shoulders. They are among the first to respond to any emergency and must often perform unimaginable tasks.

No one likes to see any municipal service curtailed, but communities have spending priorities for a reason. It’s one thing for a recreation department to have to eliminate some summer programs, as inconvenient as that may be for many residents. But it’s another thing entirely to see resources cut for a fire department, whose ability to do its job could mean the difference between life and death.

So it’s not at all surprising that a proposal to upgrade the facilities for the Adams Fire Department has support among members of the village Board of Trustees. The plan is for the village to borrow $1.2 million to expand the fire hall.

Village officials said the expansion is necessary because the fire hall lacks adequate space. The project would add new bays and storage space to the hall should it be approved.

Some people, however, are concerned about the estimated costs of the project and how the village would fund it. Several members of the Adams Planning Board — Richard Bushnell, Arden R. Sharpe, Thomas G. Williams and Chairman William J. Doe — wrote a letter published in yesterday’s issue of the Watertown Daily Times offering their views on what’s wrong with how village officials are approaching this plan.

In their letter, these Planning Board members recalled how the village has $234,000 remaining to be paid on a bond issued for the Municipal Building, a debt that will continue until 2018. They also said that usage in the water district has been expanding while no new sources have yet been identified.

On June 13, the Planning Board recommended the Board of Trustees postpone the fire hall project until a future date. Trustees tabled the matter July 15 because they did not have the required number of members to vote on it.

This is a difficult issue with numerous interests at stake. Officials cannot afford to ignore the changing needs of its fire department for too long without impacting its preparedness. If the fire hall needs to be expanded, it’s imperative the village do so as soon as possible.

But these members of the Planning Board raised some valid questions about how the village intends to manage its growing debt under this plan. There are some issues that officials have yet to resolve, and these aren’t going away anytime soon.

The challenge for all involved is to provide the best fire service to residents possible at the most reasonable costs.

As recommended in the letter by the four Planning Board members, trustees should voluntarily place the fire hall funding matter on a referendum at the earliest possible time. Residents may choose to force the issue to a referendum if it’s approved by the Board of Trustees, and we don’t doubt they would be able to collect the necessary number of signatures within the allotted time frame.

But given the difficulties involved here, trustees should go to their constituents first. The plan’s advocates could make their case about why the expansion is necessary and how it will be funded, and opponents could state why the project should be postponed.

By doing this, officials will be communicating their trust in the people they serve. Then it will be up to residents to make the proper decision.

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