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Preston residents question need for 2nd hospital vote

Preston - The town has a second chance at millions in funding to continue cleanup and redevelopment efforts on the former state hospital property, but residents on Thursday expressed frustration with the town's attempts to push forward a new loan package vote.

The town meeting Thursday came less than two weeks after voters at a referendum rejected a loan package that would have given the town $8 million to continue cleanup.

A second referendum, with an alternative bonding and town match package, is scheduled for Dec. 18.

At Thursday's meeting, residents were presented with a revised option to vote on a $2 million low-cost state Department of Economic and Development loan that would have to be matched with a $2 million town bond.

The bond is a 20-year bond that will be paid off "a little bit every year" by the taxpayers, First Selectman Robert Congdon said.

Resident Tom Fenton compared the town's purchase of the hospital three years ago, and its effort to continue work on the property, to buying a used car for $1,000 and then making a $10,000 repair shortly after.

"Nothing's been done there for 20 years, we've lost the revenue we used to get from the hospital," he said. "To borrow that money again doesn't seem like a good idea."

At the Nov. 27 referendum, residents rejected an $8 million loan package that included accepting terms of a low-cost $4 million state loan and matching that loan with a $4 million town bond.

A federal Economic Development Administration grant of $964,000 expired Saturday, but the PRA can reapply for that grant in March if voters approve the new bond package as the Dec. 18 referendum.

Board of Finance member Norman Gauthier said that "doing nothing" on the property is not an acceptable option.

"Something has to be done to continue the progress of moving forward. We can't let the progress of the PRA stop," he said. "Financially, as a member of the Board of Finance, I think it's something we can live with financially. The town is in pretty good shape, we're not distressed financially. Without being totally thrilled with this package, I endorsed it and voted for it."

Absentee ballots are available for the referendum and polls will be open at Town Hall from noon until 8 p.m. on Dec. 18.

j.hanckel@theday.com

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