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New Castle Fire Commissioners Hire Firm to Help Message Potential Bond

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The New Castle Board of Fire Commissioners has retained the public relations firm Thompson & Bender to help it communicate to the public the need for a referendum to pay for an expanded King Street firehouse.

By a 3-1 vote last week, the board approved paying the Briarcliff Manor-based company $6,000 a month through December unless a referendum is held before then. Commissioners are looking to decide on a final scope of work this summer in hopes of presenting fire district voters with a referendum, potentially before the end of the year.

Board Chair Terence Hoey said commissioners recognize they need assistance in communicating with the public the need for the larger facility. Late last year, project architect Mitchell Associates Architects provided the board with a nearly $17 million estimate for the expansion and to renovate the original 1954 building and the 1979 addition. However, the cost of that proposal has almost certainly skyrocketed perhaps by as much as $1 million due to high inflation, rising interest rates on borrowing and the escalating cost of materials and labor.

Commissioners are concerned that asking the public to approve a bond issue for anything more than what is absolutely necessary might not receive voter approval.

“Less public relations and more communications because we know what the message needs to be here,” Hoey said of the need to hire Thompson & Bender at last Thursday’s board meeting. “We need to build the new building now. We needed it yesterday. It’s not a want, it’s a requirement and I am absolutely confident we can take what we learned last year with Wise Oak Strategies and couple it with a highly respected and reputable communications firm to get the message out.”

Two commissioners questioned whether it was a wise move to spend that amount of money on a communications specialist. Commissioner Brian Murphy said he needed some assurances that Thompson & Bender will be money well spent.

“I just want some kind of guarantee that every month they’re going to do something and every month they’re going to come back and show us the progress,” said Murphy, who voted to hire the firm.

However, Commissioner Christopher Weddle dissented without explaining his vote to the board.

“I think it’s the wrong decision,” Weddle said.

The board agreed to schedule a work session for next Tuesday, June 28 at 6:30 p.m. to discuss the scope of work and to try and pin down a price point that it believes the community can support. Weddle has said that if the board decides to forgo the renovations to the 1954 and 1979 buildings that could reduce the price of the project by roughly $5 million.

“I would just want to remind the board what we want to do is find that cap, find the restrictions and then we can move forward,” Hoey said.

Some of the desire to trim as much as possible from the referendum could be that a similar vote in 2016 to expand the firehouse and purchase adjacent land was badly defeated.

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