KULPMONT - For the last two years, borough residents have been asking for a public meeting concerning the construction of a new municipal complex.

Tuesday evening, the residents got their meeting and took advantage of it in spades.

For two hours, more than 100 residents and the members of borough council went back and forth in a lively - and sometimes contentious - debate over plans to construct a new municipal building and garage on Fir Street.

In that time, both sides, for and against, stood in the West End Fire Company bingo hall to present their plans and alternatives sites to the current plan to build new.

Council president Bruno Varano read a statement at the start of the meeting in an attempt to ease the taxpayers' minds.

"There are a lot of rumors going around that there needs to be a future tax increase for the building," Varano said. "The three-mill tax increase we voted on in January will help to pay for the building's construction costs."

'Put it to a vote'

It was that tax increase that ired the Rev. Raymond Orloski, who called out the borough council members during the public comment section of the meeting.

"In January 2013, we were informed that there may be a tax increase in 2014. Today, we see that you had to raise taxes to satisfy the government for the loan. You have deceived the taxpayers. We are your constituents, you work for us!"

Orloski then said, based on the opposition, it is time for the people to be heard and for council to put the proposal to a referendum vote in November. Wild applause and a chant of "Put it to a vote!" filled the firehouse.

Borough solicitor William Cole quashed the vote talk, saying the state appellate court has ruled that only certain items can be placed on the ballot, and construction of a new building is not one of them.

Current estimates

Following Varano's statement, council member Stephen Motyka, the head of council's building committee, and borough engineer Mike Begis presented a history of the project and showed the different site plans that were considered.

They then revealed the new site plan, talking about several alternatives that were looked at.

"Before, we had the parking lot separating the building and the garage. By moving the building next to the garage, it eliminates the need for two separate utilities hookups, saving us money."

Motyka said current cost estimates indicate the borough may be able to build the complex for around $1 million.

"With the new complex, we could be eligible for energy grants and recreation opportunities," Motyka said.

According to the current anticipated project schedule, all drawings and specification books will be completed by Sept. 12 and sent to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), the federal agency that has guaranteed a loan up to $1.47 million, for approval.

After approval, bidding on the project will be open through October. The bids will be reviewed in November by the architect, borough and USDA. Bids can be awarded thereafter and construction can begin in either December or in the spring.

Motyka also presented an analysis of energy savings with geothermal heat pumps in the municipal building and natural gas heating for the garage.

"Currently, we are paying $89,089.35 for utilities," the councilman said. "By moving the complex, we could drop those costs to $60,775.22, a savings of $28,314.14."

Options

Taxpayers asked why council decided to build new and what other options were discussed.

"We looked at the former Kuzo and Dallazia car lots and the Bressi building in town, along with razing the current building and building there," Varano said. "As far as the other properties goes, the costs to either buy or rent, renovate and maintain the properties were just too great."

Resident Joe Pancerella presented borough council with three other options using existing buildings, including the former Clouser building on Chestnut Street; a former car lot, for which he did not provide the name of the owner or location to the public, and the former Sons of Italy building at Tenth and Poplar streets.

To illustrate his point, Pancerella presented drawings to council, showing how the borough's offices will fit in the building and the building and garage in the lots.

"In all three properties, the owners are ready to sell or lease to the borough," said Pancerella. "They are options that I think should be explored."

The Sons of Italy, with its kitchen, could be renovated to provide a new home for the senior action center and the Police Athletic League - two groups that do not have homes in the new complex.

The caveat: All three buildings came with a price tag of at least $300,000 and the borough would have to pay all renovation costs, or leases of $1,500 to $2,500 a month.

Council then wondered about the cost to analyze all three buildings with engineers, but Steve Bielski, the borough's building inspector, said a commercial contractor could be called to look over the buildings and give an estimate on renovation costs.

The final word

Organizers of the opposition, Bob Chesney and Walter Lutz, made their points heard, and each directed his comments not to council, but the audience.

"This audience and the residents of this town have had very little transparency on the matter," Chesney said. "Before the citizens made their voice heard, there was no report from the building committee in three years."

Chesney said council should consider its tax base.

"Look at the properties on your street," he said. "I bet it would be: rental, rental, retired, not working, rental, retired. A $1 million debt cannot be absorbed by these people."

"We are going to spend possibly $65,000 a year in loan payments to save $23,000 in energy costs," Lutz said. "That is about the worst deal ever. The money we have spent to date on the project is a sunk cost. Throwing good future money after wasted past money is nonsense on all levels."

Borough council has been working since 2009 on plans to move from its current building, the Wilson Grade School, because the 75-year-old structure has fallen into disrepair. The building was leased to the borough in 1977 at no cost, as long as it was used for municipal purposes.

Previously, the borough put the project out for bid for a design and build package. When the lowest bid came in at $1.36 million, before the loan was approved, Kulpmont went into cost-cutting mode on the plan.

The new buildings would house administration offices, maintenance, street and police departments, the code office, mayor's office, a boardroom, community room and food pantry. There will be separate administrative and police entrances, each with covered porches. The maintenance building would have four bays, two offices, a break room, utility room and restroom. There would be a 30-space parking area.