Village inks deal with railroad for parking

CHATHAM–After weeks of negotiating with CSX, the Village Board approved a one-year lease February 28 for the parking lot between the railroad tracks and the back of the buildings that face Main Street.

The move comes after CSX told Mayor Tom Curran that if the village did not lease the property, the transportation company planned block access to the site, which is currently used for parking.

Mayor Curran said at a January Village Board meeting and reiterated last week that CSX does not want to be liable if there is accident involving vehicles on the property. The site is almost entirely used for purposes unrelated to CSX’s business.

The terms of the lease include an $800 annual lease payment to CSX and require that the village install a barricade between the lot and the adjacent rail line. Mr. Curran has said engineers have reported that cars turning around in the lot appear to be too close to the rails and force trains to slow down.

During the negotiations CSX did give the town flexibility in the type of barrier that will separate the lot from the rails and dropped a requirement that the lot be paved. Overnight parking will be allowed under the lease, which the board voted unanimously to approve.

The mayor said he’s not certain where the money will come from for the maintenance of the lot and construction of the barrier but he suggested the board to move forward with the lease before the lot was closed following the company’s March 31 deadline. The village is still gathering information on the costs involved.

“Let’s keep this door open, then we can work out the details,” Mr. Curran said.

He described negotiations between the village and CSX as amicable. “It’s been a friendly environment,” he said.

The village plans to seek funding for the new lot, which may involve working with the Columbia Economic Development Corporation on grant applications, and working with local businesses. The mayor and the board also expressed interest in exploring the possibility of adding metered parking in the lot, though Trustee Joanne Del Rossi said that conversation should be saved for the future.

Parry Teasdale, president of the Chatham Area Business Alliance (CABA), told the board CABA had passed a resolution in support of municipal ownership of the lot, but noted the organization was not committing to a financial contribution. Mr. Teasdale is publisher of The Columbia Paper.

Other local business owners came to the February 28 meeting to support village ownership of the lot, including Karen Kaczmar, owner of Chatham Wine and Liquor, who said that if the lot was closed she “would have to go out of business.”

Tom Crowell, of Chatham Brewing and the Columbia Land Conservancy, also voiced support for the lease, and offered assistance in finding grants for the project.

Mayor Curran said it was not clear how soon the barrier would have to be built, but he said that to act “in good faith,” the village would seek to have it built in a few months.

The February 28 meeting was also important for the Chatham Fire Department, which has been without a ladder truck since Chief Paul Pratt determined several months ago that the old truck was unsafe for firefighters to use. At the meeting the board opened two bids for a new “Quint” truck, which the chief estimated would cost the village about $650,000.

The bids were close, with Nichols Fire Company offering a price of $613,999, and Tyler Fire Equipment bidding $612,076.

The board asked Mr. Pratt to review the bids to make sure the trucks meet the specifications required by the Chatham Fire Department. If both do, the lower bid will be accepted. The board then voted unanimously in support of a resolution authorizing the village to borrow up to $620,000 to pay for the new truck.

Mr. Curran said he and bond counsel were considering paying initially with a bond anticipation note, because the first payment isn’t required for a year. The mayor said he hopes that the village can begin making the annual payment of approximately $64,000 for the new truck shortly after the village completes making payments of $68,000 a year for a public works project. That would mean the village would not require additional revenues to pay for the truck and purchase of the truck would not increase village taxes.

Chief Pratt told the board that if there was an issue with the payment, the Fire Department can allocate $20,000 to assist.

The new truck could not come soon enough for the Fire Department, which hasn’t purchased a ladder truck since the early 2000’s–a used truck at that time that is now 28-years-old and sits rusting and unused in the garage.

Chief Pratt and the Fire Department held a public informational meeting February 20 to explain the need for a new truck. He said the expected useful life of the 28-year-old truck when it was built was only 15-18 years.

The old truck has not had a working pump since 2008, when the village opted not to fix it. In any situation where the ladder truck and pump were needed meant dispatching two separate trucks, requiring more manpower at a time when volunteer firefighter availability is declining across the state.

The chief said the department asked for a quint truck, which serves as both an engine and ladder truck, because it requires fewer firefighters.

He said the lack of a truck would affect local insurance rates, and the village is required to have an aerial device by regulation because of the height of its buildings.

While buying a used truck was considered by the department, Mr. Pratt said past experience showed that new trucks were a better value because less is spent on repairs.

As for the old truck, the village board voted last week to authorize the Fire Department to take what firefighters need from the vehicle and sell the rest for scrap. Chief Pratt told the board he could not in good conscience sell the truck whole, given the condition it is in.



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