Our View: Unconvinced

Posted: October 10, 2013

Jeff Buettner, to put it simply, remains unconvinced — not of Winchester’s need to upgrade its outdated emergency communications system, but of the certainty that the city has explored every possible cost-effective alternative to building a new telecommunications tower on public property atop Jefferson Street.

And so the long-serving councilman advanced two motions, both of which passed Tuesday night — one by the slimmest of margins — to assure that all such alternatives are definitively explored.

Mr. Buettner’s foremost reservation: A rather “stringent” RFP (request for proposals) process left the city with but one option — i.e., Jefferson Hill, proposed site of a 237-foot tower — that hit firm budget caps established by council and satisfied equally firm federal compliance standards requiring 95 percent city coverage 95 percent of the time.

Not only did Mr. Buettner tell us Wednesday that he’d “like to have (more) options,” but also expressed a preference that the budget parameters be a bit more elastic. That is, if a viable alternative to Jefferson came in at, say, $4 million, as opposed to the $3.5 million currently set in stone, he believes the city should look at it. But $5 million or $6 million? Out of the question.

“The budget is a reality, I realize that,” he said. “We’ll be bonding this (project), so we do have constraints . . . I don’t advocate blowing the budget — these constraints are real — and I can’t envision raising taxes to fund this.”

Nonetheless, so averse is he to being locked in to one option — and for a “25-year investment” on a site that has engendered concern among surrounding property owners — that Mr. Buettner appears willing to risk the wrath (and potential fines) of the Federal Communications Commission to assure due diligence is served. Then again, he does not view his motion to return to RFP as a step backward. As he says, even if the city did move forward on the Jefferson site, it would still have to seek a renewal of its FCC waiver, set to expire Jan. 1.

And should a new RFP again yield the current Jefferson site — or one close to it on land owned by the Handley Trust — as the city’s best option? “I’ll live with that,” Mr. Buettner said.