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Town Meeting: Salem Voters To Weigh In On $23.5M Public Safety Complex

Town of Salem

Voters in Salem will decide at Town Meeting Tuesday whether to approve a $23.5 million public safety complex.

The new building would house both the police and fire departments.

New Hampshire Union Leader correspondent Adam Swift has been covering this issue. He joins Morning Edition to talk about his reporting.

Can you go through some of the details of this proposal?

Town officials have been looking at a new police or fire station or a combined facility for over a decade now. Back in 2004, there was a proposal for an $8 million police station, which voters voted down.

Over the past year or two, a committee of several selectmen has been looking at a plan to get the public safety project back in front of voters, and what they’ve come up with is this combined facility which would be both the police and fire station. It would be built at the site of the current police station, at Veterans Memorial Parkway.

What are supporters saying about the need? Is it more space? Modernizing facilities?

It’s both of that. The central fire station and the police station are both coming up on 50 years old. They don’t have the infrastructure for modern communication, they don’t have the space for storage. At the first station, they don’t have some of the apparatus space for some of the new equipment they’ve purchased or even for some of the new equipment they have. They have 13-foot bay doors, which aren’t big enough to actually get a new ladder truck in the door. They have to store it at another station. It’s really a question of outdated facilities and the need for space for a growing community.

Are supporters saying that combining the police and fire departments in the same complex will actually end up saving the town money in the long run?

Yes, they believe it will save the town money. They also believe doing it this year when the interest rates are lower will add to the cost savings.

There’s been some opposition to the project, most notably from the Salem police union. Is the concern simply the price tag being too high, or are there other issues being raised?

It’s the price tag, but they also have some concerns that they feel they haven’t funded in terms of personnel and some other items. They feel the selectmen should be looking at funding the personnel and making sure there are no cuts, rather than going ahead with a public safety facility before they take care of those other issues.

If this project gets approved Tuesday, what’s the timeline for completion?

They’re looking at the end of 2017. They’d do it in phases. They’d do the police part first so that they could move over the police, and then build the fire station out and have everybody in there by the end of 2017.

What’s your feeling as to how people in town are feeling about this project one way or the other?

I think it’s going to be close. There have been a bunch of major school renovations projects over the past couple of years that have passed by the voters. It always seems like the school projects get a little extra push and have a little more popularity than the public safety facility, so I think it’ll be a close vote.

Michael serves as NHPR's Program Director. Michael came to NHPR in 2012, working as the station's newscast producer/reporter. In 2015, he took on the role of Morning Edition producer. Michael worked for eight years at The Telegraph of Nashua, covering education and working as the metro editor.

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