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Revised DPW proposal returns before voters

Two years ago, Medfield voters turned down a request for a tax increase to pay for a new Department of Public Works facility. This month, officials are asking for a somewhat downsized building, for around the same $11 million price tag.

Rising construction costs mean the town’s purchasing power will keep going down, said Town Administrator Michael Sullivan. When someone recently asked him what would happen if voters again reject the public works building, he quipped, “Well, we’ll wait five years, and we’ll get a phone booth for $15 million.”

At around 39,000 square feet, the proposed new building is smaller than the 2011 proposal, with two fewer bays and a 20 percent reduction in office space. But it is still more than twice the size of the existing building, which is around 17,000 square feet and was built in 1973. Officials say the new building is needed to store equipment indoors, to comply with state and federal environmental regulations, and to give employees a safe and healthy environment in which to work.

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The proposal faces two tests next week, an April 29 Town Meeting vote on the new building and an April 30 ballot question on whether to raise taxes to pay for it. In 2011, Town Meeting voters approved the plan, but the tax increase was defeated in a townwide election.

Sullivan said the town has already appropriated $1.1 million for the project, so officials are expecting to need around $10 million more. That would represent an initial tax increase of around $240 per year for the average single-family home in Medfield, Sullivan said, with the figure decreasing over time as the debt is paid off.

Selectman Osler Peterson, who voted against the building in 2011, said he is in favor of it now. Two years ago, he said, he was unable to get answers to questions about the reasons behind the size and design of the building. This time, Permanent Building Committee members have provided those answers, he said.

“I think we did not do as good a job of presenting the building and the reasons for it as we should have” in 2011, acknowledged Thomas Erb, chairman of the building committee, “but the support has been pretty strong” for the proposal this time.

Medfield’s Public Works Department tends to the town’s roads, water and sewer systems, trash transfer station, and a cemetery. Erb pointed out that Medfield has seen large increases in population, in the number of roads, and of water and sewer lines since the current building was constructed.

The existing facility has “reached the end of its life,” Erb said. “The building is essentially falling down around them.” When he gave a presentation at the building recently, he said, water leaked through the ceiling, narrowly missing his laptop.

Erb said he is more confident that the replacement building will be approved this time around. No formal group is opposing the project, and officials say they have not heard many residents speak against it at public meetings.

But Sullivan noted that voters are often more willing to spend money on items like school buildings, which are used by members of the community. He likened building a new public works facility to fixing pipes in a home.

“I always say people don’t mind spending money for new drapes or new furniture, but they don’t want to pay to fix the plumbing,” Sullivan said. “Some people are reluctant to spend money on things they don’t see.

“Nobody moves to Medfield for the public works,” he added. “They move here for the schools. They move here for the open space. They don’t move here for the plumbing. But when the plumbing doesn’t work, we hear about it.”

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