MILLTOWN — A new Department of Public Works building and a new firehouse are on the horizon for a former factory on Washington Avenue.
The Borough Council voted in favor of an ordinance appropriating $15.5 million for expenses related to the Public Works Complex — Flood Mitigation Project, which will also include a new firehouse.
“This includes all the engineering, debt costs and hard costs estimated two to three months ago,” Gerard Stankiewicz, the borough’s auditor, said during a special council meeting on June 20.
Borough Engineer Mike McClelland said the borough purchased the Susan Hutton dress factory at 50 Washington Ave. about three years ago.
“The original plan was to put the substation there,” he said. “An analysis was done and it was found to be cheaper to put the substation on the side of the site, which left the property for development.”
McClelland said an entrance/exit into the proposed Public Works Complex will be on Washington Avenue with a traffic signal activated when vehicles approach the exit drive.
He said the placement of the 10-bay Public Works building acts as a noise barrier to the surrounding neighborhood.
“The property will be screened as much as possible,” McClelland said. “There will be a place to store garbage trucks and there will be a salt storing station, which is required by the state.”
Architect Thomas Golden of Kistler Buildings, based in Fogelsville, Pennsylvania, said several meetings were held to gather input as they put together the four-bay firehouse design as well as the public works site.
“We wanted to make the design functional and aesthetically pleasing, keeping with the work done in the borough,” he said.
The site will also include a maintenance equipment shed.
Mayor Eric Steeber said the large undertaking is a flood mitigation project.
“We are moving the public utilities and public works garage facility out of a flood plain,” he said. “It is an ambitious project. Let’s face it, we all don’t like to spend money, but at this point we don’t have a choice. The longer we wait, the more it will cost.”
Steeber said his job is to take care of the people of Milltown and make sure everyone is safe, which includes the borough’s employees.
“Our two firehouses are slowly deteriorating where the wind blows through them,” he said. “Floodwaters go in the Public Works building so many times.”
Steeber said the conditions the Public Works employees and firefighters have to work in are deplorable.
“It’s a shame,” he said. “We owe more to ourselves and our employees.”
Steeber said if they learn anything from this process — 20 years discussing a new firehouse and 10 years discussing where to move the Public Works building — they have to learn that they need to invest in the borough.
“I love this town,” he said. “If we love it, we got to take care of it.”
Stankiewicz said there is no denying the tax impact any project has on the community; however, he said the borough’s engineering firm, CME Associates, has been diligently seeking favorable rates from the New Jersey Environmental Infrastructure Trust and from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) to lessen the tax impact of the project.
“Both offer favorable rates,” Stankiewicz said.
The funds for the new Public Works Complex and firehouse will be allocated among three operating funds: 15 percent from the water-sewer capital, 25 percent from the electric capital and 60 percent from the general capital fund.
Stankiewicz said the funds would be financed over 20 years. The average debt service would be $1.87 million per year, which would be allocated among the borough’s three operating funds.
He said if the project were to stand alone without any consideration of financial help or the other debt obligations that the borough is incurring, the electric portion would increase 3.49 percent from the electric capital, the water sewer utility would see an incremental debt service of 7.21 percent, and the average annual debt service would be $639,000.
“This translates to 14.32 cents and the average residential home would pay roughly $230 more a year,” he said.
Stankiewicz said it is important to note that the percentages do not mean electric; water and sewer rates will go up annually.
“We have other debt obligations that will be dropped off [as time goes on],” he said.
Stankiewicz said the USDA rates right now are a bit more favorable and officials would like to submit the appropriate paperwork needed to get the proper approvals.
“The issue is the new administration in Washington [DC] right now and this may or may not be on their budget plans next year,” he said. “That could change. … I don’t know if it will be better or for worse.”
Stankiewicz said officials are trying to be aggressive in presenting the entire project for funding.
Councilman Randy Farkas said the project at hand is the biggest one the borough has ever undertaken, with the electric substation following as the second biggest project.
“The impact on the residents is astronomical,” he said.
Farkas said with the electric substation project, the council turned over every stone to make the project right for the taxpayer.
“Why not go to a referendum and let the taxpayers have a say?” Farkas said.
Councilman Nicholas Ligotti agreed, noting his decision is based on the financial impact on the borough.
“I would like to have seen a referendum for the firehouse portion put on the ballot in November,” he said, adding if the residents stood behind the project 100 percent, he would follow.
Councilwoman Doriann Kerber said council members have to keep in mind how much the borough lost in supplies and equipment from the floodwaters over the years and the well-being of their employees and volunteer firefighters.
Steeber said when the public voted down the referendum for a $6 million firehouse a few years ago, borough officials heard them loud and clear.
“They did not want to spend $6 million-plus and we found an alternative way to build a firehouse with less than half the cost that was proposed then,” he said.
The council received a standing ovation from the crowd, who came in support of the ordinance.
Contact Kathy Chang at email@example.com.