Funds for New Police Station Should be Welcomed  
Thursday, March 3, 2011
There’s an old proverb that declares: “Never look a gift horse in the mouth.” As horses age, their teeth project forward so their age can be estimated.

The advice in “don’t look” is that when you are given a gift, you should be grateful for your good fortune and not look for more by examining its value.

This is pretty much what Webster taxpayers are faced with: A proposal to build a new police station on the Main Street and renovate the existing police and fire station for the Fire Department.

The gift comes with a couple of blessings. The (Gerald and Marilyn) Fels Family Foundation has offered to help the town build a new police station and rehabilitate the existing fire-police facility, matching all modern-day codes and requirements. The tags read: $8.1 million for a spanking new police station, and $3.9 million for a first-lass fire station.

The impact starts at $12 million, scaled against a 20-year debt. The off-the-bat plus will be facilities everyone can be proud of. It will also turn a downtown blight (that’s the Vito Block and a couple of adjacent properties) into an asset, and be right at the apex to municipal life, adjacent to the Webster Post Office and across the road from Town Hall and the public library.

Now, look at the Fels Factor: The family foundation will donate $200,000 a year toward the twin projects for 30 years. The committee in charge, including money managers Brian J. Perry, treasurer of the Webster Five Cents Savings Bank; and Randall V. Becker, executive vice president and chief financial officer of Commerce Insurance Co.; have scaled payback to 20 years.

“This is to take the most prudent approach,” says Mr. Perry, the committee chairman.

Selectman Mark Dowgiewicz, former panelist Robert J. Miller, Police Chief Timothy Bent, Police Sgt. Rodney Budrow, recently retired Fire Chief Gordon Forrester, his successor Brian J. Hickey and Town Administrator John McAuliffe also serve on or are advisers to the building committee.

Principal and interest — figured against an average home valued at $231,000 — will run from a high of $157.60 in year one, when principal and interest will be $1,068,000. At the same time, Fels money will reduce payments by $128.09. The scale works backwards to $90.31 in year 20, when Fels help displaces $60.81. Fels’ munificence will continue for another 10 years after the two stations, fire and police, are paid for, meaning a decade without any municipal appropriations.

Years 21 to 30 might be seen as payback for the debt commitment. Now, this isn’t to gloss over financial factors, to tell any taxpayer what to do. It’s simply my view of the situation. And, yes, there are other considerations. The downtown property will come at a price, to be purchased by the town with money provided by Donna F. and Randall V. Becker. He’s the Commerce financial officer, and a member of the building committee. Cost to remove the Vito properties could range up to $300,000, making the Becker gift significant.

Estimates for construction and borrowing have been pegged to the top of project scales, but the stations committee has its collective fingers crossed, hoping that finance, labor and materials managers might sharpen their pencils and shave their projections. This is conjecture, of course, but it offers a view to the building committee’s mindset. Get everything possible for the donor and town dollars.

The proposed projects, with a special town meeting on Monday and a referendum vote March 21, is as major as Webster undertakings ever get. But, and cast the BUT in caps, it’s the first municipal undertaking in 90 years proposed on the back of private money. The Marilyn and Gerald Fels Foundation and Donna and Randy Becker are the first Webster citizens to stand up and declare a willingness to help since the Chester C. Corbin Charitable Trust built a library with the residue from Mr. Corbin’s estate in 1921.

That gift came with a delay, the support of Mr. Corbin’s widow. It took years before the library was constructed, scaled back somewhat because the bequest had shrunk and the town didn’t have the willingness to right a pre-building deficit.

This is today’s challenge. Four people with executive ties to Commerce Insurance are standing tall, inviting community involvement. Mr. Fels is mostly retired from the Commerce Group, and is serving as interim president of Nichols College. It might not be easy for some taxpayers, but if at all possible, let’s be grateful for our good fortune. Getting a new police station and the equivalent to a new firehouse will always be necessary, but probably never cheaper.
-Courtesy Of
Telegram & Gazette

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