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Emergency services bond could face Ashland voters

ASHLAND — Residents may be asked to fund a new fire station as soon as November 2010 after the City Council voted Tuesday to form a task force to study the possibility of a public safety bond measure.

The bond could fund replacement of Fire Station No. 2 on Ashland Street, expansion of the police department, police and fire training facilities and a fire truck with a ladder that could be used on large buildings.

If all items were included in the bond, the tab would be about $6.5 million, City Administrator Martha Bennett said.

The estimated cost for just the fire station is $3.5 million, she said.

In November 2006, city voters rejected a bond that would have paid for a new $5 million fire station.

City officials applied for a federal economic stimulus grant to pay for the replacement, but found out earlier this year they did not win the grant.

Bennett said Fire Station No. 2 is made of hollow concrete blocks and might not survive a major earthquake.

"The very guys you are going to want to go on a call are going to be inside the fire station — the ex-fire station," she said.

Bennett said the city may have to discontinue use of Fire Station No. 2 if it cannot be replaced.

The larger and newer Fire Station No. 1 is located downtown near the Ashland Branch Library.

In 1999, voters approved a $4 million bond to replace and expand that fire station. City officials had decided not to place a bond on the ballot to reconstruct both fire stations because of the cost of tackling the two projects at once.

The nearest fire engine ladder truck is in Medford and would take 20 to 30 minutes to arrive in Ashland to help on a fire in a large building, city officials said.

Councilman Eric Navickas said it would be good to have a task force go through a public process and look at public safety needs. He said the task force might narrow down the list.

Navickas and council members Greg Lemhouse, Carol Voisin and Kate Jackson voted in favor of Mayor John Stromberg appointing the task force.

Council members David Chapman and Russ Silbiger voted against the move.

In a memo to the council, city staff suggested that the task force include one council member, two at-large citizens, two people knowledgeable about city facilities, two people familiar with bond measures, two citizens interested in police services and two citizens who are interested in the fire department — such as Community Emergency Response Team members.

"Everyone on this list seems to be a cheerleader for 'Let's make this happen,'" Chapman said.

Silbiger said the city should focus on replacing Fire Station No. 2, and not put together an expensive bond package that residents cannot afford.

The bond would be paid through property taxes.

Vickie Aldous is a reporter for the Ashland Daily Tidings. She can be reached at 479-8199 or vlaldous@yahoo.com.