Jul 28, 2014

Firehouse Project a Hot Topic at Lawrence Board Meeting

Tempers flare over stalled project and permit fees.

Firehouse Project a Hot Topic at Lawrence Board Meeting Firehouse Project a Hot Topic at Lawrence Board Meeting Firehouse Project a Hot Topic at Lawrence Board Meeting

Village of Lawrence Mayor Martin Oliner and Fire Commissioner Ed Koehler got into a heated debate during a village hearing over the delayed firehouse renovation project and firehouse administrators feeling blindsided by a sudden costly building permit fee from the village.

“We’re trying to resolve this contract to get the funds needed to do our building extension,” Koehler said. “For the most part, the village has been very helpful. But we want to put this to bed tonight and finally start construction.”

Cedarhurst approved their portion of the contract several days ago for the two-story extension on the Lawrence-Cedarhurst Firehouse, a project that has been in the works for several years. Koehler and First Assistant Chief John McHugh attended the Lawrence hearing, hoping to secure their approval too, as well as to protest an unexpected $30,000 permit fee they were hit with that morning. 

“In all this time of negotiations, no permit fee was ever brought up,” said Koehler. “We think it should be waived, because it does nothing but increase the cost of the project. And since the village is providing the funding, it does nothing for the village, because they are basically paying themselves back. Are we all of the sudden being told that they want a $30,000 fee or we can’t have our permit?” 

Koehler said that had he known about the fee, it would have been included in the cost projection. Trustee Michael Fragin suggested that in the interest of goodwill and expediency, the board should consider waving the fee, but Mayor Martin Oliner didn’t agree.

“We think that $30,000 to review all these documents and to monitor this is not inappropriate,” Oliner said. “We don’t work for free. We’re not making money on the building permit, but we refuse to lose money on it.”

“Don’t be angry at us. This board has done everything conceivable to move the project forward,” said Oliner. “We have pushed through funding, had innumerable hearings and passed legislation for variances for this project. We’ve given you land that doesn’t even belong to you. For you to say in an article in Newsday that your firefighters are considering not answering calls is beyond the pale. It’s inappropriate and uncalled for.”

According to the mayor, Lawrence will pay the lion’s share for this project, as with all fire protection services, at 53 percent. Cedarhurst pays about 36 percent, and other municipalities pay about 10 percent.

Another project holdup is that Lawrence and Cedarhurst couldn’t agree on where they would get the funding to finance the project.

“Other parties have financial restraints that we don’t have, which is why we took the lead on this,” the mayor said. “Cedarhurst wanted to go for a six percent mortgage, but that’s ridiculous. It’s not an appropriate rate for us to pay.”

Trustee Joel Mael said that before the board signs off on the contract, they must consider the possibility of overruns caused by an unforeseen problem arising during construction that could drive up the original price.

“The person responsible for supervising the project should be responsible for overruns, which is the [fire department],” Mael said. “We want to make sure that you have no problem writing that into the contract. I just want to make sure you don’t come back to us saying that you have a problem and need more money.”

McHugh said that he has a backup plan in the unlikely event that overruns should occur.

“We have contingencies built into the contract in the neighborhood of $50,000,” he said. “We also have money of our own – $250,000 of fire department money.  But we’re comfortable with the parties that we gave the contracts to that they will do the right thing.”

The mayor told Koehler and McHugh that they need to have a little more patience, mentioning the fact that it was only a couple days ago that Cedarhurst gave its approval. He said that the lawyers need to begin drafting the documents, which takes time.

This story was updated at 1:25 p.m. on Oct. 19.

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