Needham voters will be asked to approve a $70 million property tax increase on Nov. 6 to replace the town’s outdated police and fire stations.
The project includes tearing down and reconstructing both the police and fire headquarters on Chestnut Street in Needham Center and Fire Station No. 2 on Highland Avenue, as well as pay for temporary relocation during the process.
“This plan will meet real public safety needs now, and serve the town for many years to come,” said Needham Selectboard chair Dan Matthews.
The proposed debt exclusion override would result in a $436 per year tax hike for the average single-family home (based on an assessment of $904,828). The tax impact for commercial properties during the 30-year bond period is expected to peak at about five percent of current bills in 2023, gradually decreasing thereafter both in actual dollars and as a percentage of the tax bill.
Town officials maintain that both projects need to be done to modernize public safety needs and significant growth, including in the Needham Crossing section of the N2 Innovation District.
Needham’s Public Safety Building -- located at the intersection of Chestnut Street and School Street -- opened in 1931 and was last renovated in 1989, nearly three decades ago. Fire Station #2, located at the intersection of Highland Avenue and Webster Street, opened in 1949 and was also renovated 30 years ago.
Neither facility is considered sufficient to accommodate changes in operations, changing personnel needs, technology upgrades and security improvements.Neither station is fully accessible for individuals with limited mobility.
In 1950, 19 years after the station opened, Needham’s Police Department had 25 sworn officers and responded to 1,774 calls. By 2015, the number of sworn officers was 49 and call volume had increased to 31,610.
The new station would address deficiencies police say exist at the current station. The proposed plan would provide adequate locker facilities for female officers, evidence and property storage, interview rooms, interview recording technology, public meeting space, records storage, dispatch areas, patrol and administrative office space, and report writing space. The prisoner holding cells are also outdated and inadequate, due to its size and configuration. The current station also lacks the ability to handle technology improvements due to space constraints, while the roof continues to leak into the records/server room on the second floor.
In 1950, Needham’s Fire Department had 27 firefighters. Call volume data is not available for 1950, but the Department responded to 600 calls in 1960. By 2015, the number of sworn firefighters climbed to 64 and the department responded to 3,915 calls.
The fire stations are too small for modern fire trucks; insufficient for performing equipment maintenance and repair; lack facilities for storing and cleaning turnout gear; inadequate for firefighter support such as bunkrooms, toilets and showers; insufficient for storage space for files and equipment; and have only minimal existing office space, officials say. Fire Station #2 is proposed to more than double in size -- from 9,670 to 22,112 square feet.
The reconstruction projects will be performed in two phases, with the parking lot of the Hillside School being used as a temporary location during construction. The advantages of constructing both stations at the same time includes choosing one construction contractor to manage overhead, equipment and labor in a more productive and efficient manner, which will reduce the overall cost to taxpayers, officials say.
Needham has had a split tax rate since 1988, which results in commercial property owners subsidizing residential taxpayers by paying a higher rate.All indications are that the town will continue the split rate practice.