Opponents seek vote on land purchase for Brunswick Police Dept.

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BRUNSWICK — Plans for building a new police station at Pleasant and Stanwood streets hit a hurdle this week after opponents of the location began circulating a petition to force a referendum on the land purchase.

The petition drive is being led by Karen Klatt of 32 Moody Road, a former District 4 town councilor, who along with her husband and several other residents filed the necessary paperwork at the town office Sept. 24.

The petition seeks to overrule by referendum the Town Council’s Sept. 20 approval of a $1.175 million bond package for the land purchase. The proposed 1.61-acre site is made up of four contiguous lots, including the former Brunswick House of Pizza.

“I feel that amount of money spent on any real estate acquisition for any reason should be voted on by ‘the people,’” Klatt said in an e-mail. She further noted the town’s assessed value of the four lots is $156,000 and questioned how the market value can be more than $1 million.

“I will be asking for the appraisals on that property that the town councilors viewed before voting, but I have a feeling there is no appraisal,” she said.

Reached Wednesday for further comment, Klatt said there will be about half a dozen people going door-to-door with petitions. “I honestly don’t think we’ll have any trouble getting enough signatures,” she said. “People have been calling me asking where they can sign the petition.”

Klatt said the Sept. 20 ordinance passed by the Council doesn’t state the land acquisition will be used for construction of a police station.

“Until they change the wording in the ordinance to include (the stated purpose), it’s not concrete. They can intend whatever they want, but it has to be in the ordinance.”

Town Manager Gary Brown said the petitions must be returned by 4:30 p.m., Oct. 10, or within 20 days from the date the council adopted the ordinance authorizing acquisition of the land, issuance of the bonds and notes.

Brown said the Town Charter stipulates after a petition is submitted and validated the council is obligated to hold a public hearing within 30 days. Following the public hearing the Council can either reverse its decision or schedule a special referendum.

“I would anticipate the council not reversing its decision,” he said, adding the soonest a special referendum could be held would be mid-December.

Brown said an agenda item will be included for the council’s Oct. 4 meeting to clarify that the ordinance intent is for a proposed police station.

“We’ve had three public discussions on this – Aug. 16, Sept. 7 and then the public hearing on Sept. 20. I think the intent for use of that property has been made very clear,” he said.

The $1.175 million ordinance approved by the council included just over $1 million for purchase of the properties, with the remainder for demolition, site cleanup, legal expenses and other fees, including more than $50,000 in real estate commission and $30,000 earmarked for contingencies.

The petition took council Chairwoman Joanne King by surprise.

“The night of the hearing we had a room full of people, but only three of them spoke in opposition to it,” she said. King, who sponsored the measure with Councilors Ben Tucker of District 2 and David Watson of District 1, said although the ordinance doesn’t state the acquisition is for a new police station, it was made clear that was the council’s intention.

“We can’t change the ordinance, but we can certainly clarify that point on Monday night,” she added.

Watson said he is determined to move forward in a positive manner.

“It’s their right to petition and if they’re successful then we’d be forced to have a referendum ballot before going ahead,” he said, adding that the petition does nothing to address the Police Department’s facility needs.

“Are people concerned about the purchase of the property or the needs of our Police Department? Something has to be done. We have a facility where people could be injured; it’s a civil litigation waiting to happen down there,” he said.

Watson also expressed concern about the message a petition effort sends. “Speaking as a retired police officer, not as a councilor, this really lowers moral,” he said.

Town ordinances require that Klatt and her supporters collect enough signatures to represent 5 percent of Brunswick’s registered voters. Klatt said she hopes to get 900 signatures. The other petition initiators are John L. Donovan of 11 McKeen St. and Theodore and Nancy Laitala of 9 Federal St.

Phil DiVece can be reached at 373-9060 ext. 123 or pdivece@theforecaster.net