EAST LYME — First Selectman Mark Nickerson strongly criticized the Board of Finance for denying a request Monday night to bond additional funds to renovate the Honeywell building for use as a public safety facility — a decision that removes the question from going to a public referendum.
“It is a travesty that the citizens of East Lyme have been denied an opportunity to vote on a referendum of this plan,” Nickerson said in a press release on Wednesday. “Our town stepped up 16 months ago and overwhelmingly voted to buy the Honeywell building and finally move toward a permanent solution to this decades long problem. It is the expectation of the public for the renovation of this new town facility to be done right, and for the right reasons.”
The town purchased the Honeywell office building at 277 West Main Street in May 2019 for $2.8 million. The funds were part of a $5 million bond approved by East Lyme voters in Feb., 2019. With $2.2 million left for renovations, the town hired architects Silver Petrucelli & Associates, who presented a $5.8 million plan for renovations, leaving a $3.5 million shortfall. The firm worked with the Public Safety Vision Committee over the course of a year to trim the scope of the project, which reduced the needed funds to $2.17 million.
The finance board required a majority vote to approve the $2.17 million, but the motion failed as a 3-3 tie. Voting for the request to bond were Democrat Peter Derosa and Republicans Anne Santoro and John Birmingham. Voting against were Democrats Ann Cicchiello, Richard Steel and Camille Alberti, board chair.
By phone Tuesday night, Alberti said that although the additional $2.17 million would have nominally brought the cost of the project to $7.2 million, she said she believed that there was a lack of transparency and that the costs would be higher and require further bonding later.
“I did not believe in the integrity of that number. The public has a right to know what the cost of this building is going to be. We did not get that information,” she said. “I came up with an estimate of $8.8 to $9.6 million and that is why I couldn’t endorse additional appropriation knowing that was not going to be the total cost of the project.”
Alberti said she supported a safe, up-to-date public safety building, but said that costs such as a new roof and a HVAC unit should have been included upfront. In addition, she criticized paying for costs like $186,000 for pavement out of the town’s capital fund instead of including the costs in the project total.
“You can’t raid the operating and the capital budget to make improvements whose costs should have been in the upfront project costs,” she said.
Alberti said she had received no answer when she asked the Board of Selectmen for an alternative if the appropriation did not pass the Board of Finance or a public referendum.