October 21, 2021

Flames, smoke — and funds

Groton firefighters barbecue to raise money for public safety building

Shenandoah Briere/contributing photographer

Groton Assistant Fire Chief Rick Neville Jr., left, checks chicken on a grill with a thermometer, while Groton Mayor Chris Neville looks to see what temperature it says. The Groton Fire Department hosted a chicken barbecue Saturday to raise funds for the village’s public safety building project.

GROTON — Around 50 people wrapped their coats around themselves, shifted on their feet and huddled together as they waited in the cold Saturday to get chicken barbecue dinner.

They were among the 300 or more people who had stopped at 308 Main St. in Groton to support the village fire department’s efforts to raise money for a new public safety building. Some people were waiting more than 30 minutes to get a piece of chicken, roll, salt potatoes and baked beans.

“It’s been fantastic,” Fire Chief Ben Nelson said. “We can’t keep up.” The department bought 600 halves of chicken — by noon they were down to a few dozen.

“They’re ordering four, five and six dinners at a time,” Nelson said. Dinners sold for $10 each. The fire department raised an estimated few thousand dollars.

The fire department is trying to raise $800,000 for what was expected to be a new $5.4 million public safety building at the same location as the barbecue.

Neville said the village plans to put the project out to bid again in the fall after receiving bids that were all at least $2 million over what the village was looking to spend.

“We’re hoping to get a better bid,” Neville said.

So far, the department has raised $20,000, Nelson said. The village board approved the project in November, although Groton Mayor Chris Neville said the project has been in the works for at least 30 years.

Former Tompkins County emergency Response Director and now Fire Coordinator Lee Shurtleff recalled discussions of a new building in the 1990s.

Plans show an 18,000-squarefoot facility that would house the fire and police departments, as well as municipal offices. The fire and police departments are now at 108 E. Cortland St.

However, the 60-year-old building is no longer adequate for the fire department, Nelson said.

“The fire department membership is growing, but the building isn’t,” Nelson said. “It’s getting a little tight around here.”

When the department needs a new fire truck, it must be customized to fit the building, which can be expensive, he said.

The new building would have a 5,000-square-foot garage for the fire department. The police department would get a 700- square-foot garage.

Municipal offices were also once located in the same building as the police and fire departments, but then moved to 143 E. Cortland St., Nelson said, although he’s not certain when that happened.

That municipal building is also at least 60 years old, Neville said.

The new public safety building would include a community room, which Neville hopes can provide space for activities like the recreation program. Funding comes from three sources:

• $4.4 million in bonds. The annual repayment would be about $320,000. The repayment will lead to a 36% increase in property taxes over five years. Starting in 2020, property taxpayers would increase about 7 percent to $9.12 per $1,000 of assessed property value from $8.53 per $1,000 in 2019, rising to $12.42 per $1,000 in 2024. Neville said the both older buildings would be sold to offset project costs.

• $160,700 from a capital reserve fund.

• $800,000 from the fire department. Neville said residents have been very supportive of the project.

“It’s amazing,” Neville added. “I’m impressed.”