Fire, police, ambulance calls: Study will see where needs are

Where — ideally — should Ridgefield’s fire and police headquarters be? Together, maybe?

The brick firehouse on Catoonah Street and police station in a towered Victorian on East Ridge Road are vintage buildings, architecturally at home in Ridgefield center. But they’re getting old, and the town is looking into whether their vital functions should be relocated.

“We have two headquarters for police and fire, each over 100 years old and in need of upgrades — serious upgrades,” First Selectman Rudy Marconi said.

Working with Fire Chief Jerry Myers and Major Steven Brown of the police department, Marconi is searching for consulting firm to do a needs assessment that could guide the town in considering potential locations for both the police station and the fire headquarters that is also the main location of the fire department’s Emergency Medical Service (EMS) ambulance operations.

“We’re looking for an analysis of our current service, all-inclusive of police, fire and EMS,” Marconi said. “Where that call frequency is, and taking into consideration of future growth of our community, the changes in demographics and the location of future development, which is land use.”

The idea for the study grew out of the Board of Selectmen’s back and forth discussions with the Police Commission over the last few years. The Police Commission has lobbied to include a renovation of the police station and creation of a central dispatch facility in the town’s five-year capital plan — it’s a $6 million expenditure listed for 2020-21.

Before asking voters to authorize an expenditure of that size, the selectmen have said they wanted to study the needs of both the fire and police departments — including a look at whether the most cost-effective approach might be to combine the two into a single public safety administration facility.

A study of police, fire and ambulance call patterns is a first step.

To find an appropriate consultant for the study, the town will put out a request for proposals or RFP “to have companies bid to submit an analysis of our community that will present several solutions/options but not a recommendation for which option is right,” Marconi said in an Oct. 16 interview.

Debt down

“The reason we’re looking at this now, as a community, is that our debt service has gone down,” Marconi said.

The town’s debt peaked at $148 million in 2004, with the $90 million “school bundle” — expanding the high school, upgrading all the elementary schools, building the recreation center — following close on the heels of the $34-million bond issue for construction of Scotts Ridge Middle School.

The town expects to close 2018 with outstanding debt of about $64 million, according to Marconi.

“We have paid for the bundle of 2003-04 — in 2021-22, it’ll be paid off,” he said. “Our debt service will be at a level where it was, $40-to-$50 million.”

Marconi said he’s been working with Controller Kevin Redmond on projections of debt service and pay down to determine when to undertake projects that require substantial new borrowing.

“That’s the reason for taking on these projects that are long overdue. We don’t want to grow the debt service, we would be able to back-fill and hold a level,” Marconi said.

“...Our debt service projection would include these upgrades as well as the state-mandated upgrade to our sewer plant — which we have to do whether we like it or not.”

The sewer plant is projected to cost $48 million, but plans are for only $8 million to be repaid by all town taxpayers as they would for a police or fire station. The town is hoping for $11.5 million from a package of state and federal grants, and repaying the remainder of the cost would be done through sewer use and sewer hookup fees assessed to properties directly served by the sewer system.