OCEAN PINES – Association officials say more work will need to be completed to consider a referendum on funding for the fire department’s South Station improvement project.
As officials look to hold a referendum on the renovation of the Ocean Pines Volunteer Fire Department (OPVFD) South Station, the Ocean Pines Association (OPA) Board of Directors voted unanimously on Wednesday to gather the required information and complete the necessary activities outlined in a memorandum of understanding (MOU) between the two entities.
“The purpose and effect of this is to define the information and activities that must be completed and submitted to the board for it to vote on a motion to initiate a referendum to address the anticipated shortfall in funds necessary to renovate the south fire station,” said Director Frank Daly, who introduced the motion.
Last month, OPVFD leaders held a town hall meeting to discuss proposed South Station renovations, and the funding needed to make the project a reality. As officials look to bring the decades-old facility into compliance with standards set by the National Fire Protection Association, Americans with Disabilities Act and local building codes, they told community members they are proposing an extensive renovation that calls for a demolition of its living and administrative quarters and the addition of a two-story building, as well as a new bay.
“This is not the Taj Mahal,” OPVFD President Dave VanGasbeck said at the time. “We’ve worked very hard to get this down to what we believe to be the bare minimum that complies with all the requirements at this given point in time.”
Preparations for a renovation project at the South Station began last year, when the department contracted with Manns Woodward Studios to complete a feasibility study. Of the options presented to the department, officials opted for an extensive renovation with a price tag of $8.6 million.
OPVFD officials say state contributions totaling $1.6 million and department reserve funding in the amount of $1 million will go toward South Station improvements. The department is also seeking the community’s support to fund the remaining $6 million, which would result in an assessment increase of $42 a year.
“The next step would be for the board to approve a referendum to begin that process …,” VanGasbeck said last month.
On the agenda for discussion this week, Daly noted that before a referendum could be considered, the association and fire department would have to define the information and activities required before the board could consider a motion for referendum.
He pointed out that the existing MOU excluded the South Station and OPA excluded funding for South Station improvements.
“Out of almost 8,500 homeowners, some of these homeowners don’t understand the fire department is completely independent of the Ocean Pines Association …,” he said. “We do have a memorandum of understanding between the association and the fire department on how Ocean Pines Association can supply funding to them. That memorandum of understanding was last revised with a supplement in 2013. The most important part of it is that the south fire station was specifically excluded from construction and renovation.
He continued, “It basically said that to address any construction and renovation at the south fire station, there would be a joint capital campaign between the fire department and association to raise funds for such construction.”
Daly added that association would need to work through specifics related to costs, funding and ownership.
“For us to go to referendum we need to frame a specific question to put in front of all homeowners in a yes-or-no format,” he explained. “To do that, there are some things we need to know that right now we don’t know … Until we get that information, we are not prepared to go to referendum.”
After further discussion, the board voted unanimously to move forward in completing the steps required for a referendum motion to be considered.
“The fire department protects our lives and our property, so as a board it’s our responsibility to make sure all of our first responders have the best training, best equipment and the best facilities we can supply …,” Daly said. “When we are supplying that training, that equipment and those facilities, we also have to do so in manner that is most cost effective … That’s simply what this motion is trying to do.”
Daly noted the process of constructing the South Station would be no different than that of other association buildings. Director Doug Parks, however, questioned the timeline for using state funds.
“Is there an expiration date on the money committed by the state?” he said. “I think we need to keep that in our sphere of consciousness as we go through this process.”
Daly said that the association must use the funds within three years.
“We are aware of it,” he replied.
The board this week also voted unanimously to direct the general manager to authorize and oversee staff in providing technical assistance to the OPVFD as it prepares requests for proposals to secure at least three bids for fundraising, and to form a workgroup to evaluate and select a fundraising professional for an OPVFD/OPA capital fundraising effort required for the South Station renovation.
When asked how the workgroup would be formed, General Manager John Viola noted that the OPVFD president would be responsible for selecting members.
“Ocean Pines will supply the technical support he needs, whether that’s communication or IT or something like that,” he added.
In his report this week, Viola noted he has recruited a team of experts to gather information on the South Station construction project.
“We’re in a pre-preliminary planning stage, and that’s still evolving,” he said.
Viola added that the team consisted of representatives of the OPVFD, finance, public works and administration. The group, he noted, would review high-level drawings of the South Station renovation, reach out to contractors and gather information to questions from the community.
“Again, nothing is final,” he said. “We’re just trying to get as many answers to these questions as this evolves.”