Council weighs in on police stationPublished 12:29pm Monday, April 18, 2011
As costs are cut and new options are tossed into the mix, the question remains: What is the Fergus Falls City Council going to do about the police station?
The short answer is that no one is really sure.
All of the council members are in agreement about one thing: the police department needs a new building. After staying in increasingly cramped quarters in multiple locations over the years, police are looking for a permanent place to call home.
“We need a police station,” said Alderman Jim Fish.
JoEllen Thacker agreed. “They’ve done a very good job in their not-very-ideal conditions,” she said. “We need to provide a very good place for them to work.”
Paying for a new place to work is another matter. The cost of the original project, a two-story, 26,000 square foot building on Washington Avenue, is estimated to be $6.55 million. Some council members believe that might be too expensive.
“I don’t support it as it is,” said Alderman Scott Rachels. “There’s design questions and money questions.”
In previous council discussions, Rachels has expressed concerns not only about the price, but also about the proposed roof of the structure, which he believes might not last long in heavy snowfalls.
Jay Cichosz said he needed to hear more justification of the plan before he could make a decision.
“Do I support it? Yeah, but I want to make sure we have the money to pay for it, and I want to make sure it’s going to last a long time,” he remarked.
All of the council members also said they couldn’t make a final decision until the state Legislature determines the fate of the local option sales tax for the community ice arena project. If the sales tax falls through and the police station is approved, two major building projects would be on property tax rolls at the same time.
Fish was adamant about the necessity of the sales tax. If it doesn’t get approved, he said, “then we cannot do the police station.”
Randy and Stan Synstelien both said they were in favor of the police station, but they weren’t sure about building it while the arena is still being paid for.
“My feeling as of right now is that it’s quite a bit to ask the taxpayers to take on until more time goes by,” Stan said, adding, “Unless I hear from the taxpayers in my ward saying we’re willing to bear the burden, I would be inclined to say, ‘Wait.’”
“Public safety is still very much a high priority for me,” Randy commented. “The short answer is that I probably would support (the police station) because staff is recommending it, but I’m not sure I support the existing time frame.”
“One of the things that I’ve just been pondering is what would be the impact of waiting until the ice arena is paid for through the sales tax?” he added. Then, he explained, the city could authorize another sales tax to pay for the police station and, after that, possibly take one building project at a time through the sales tax process, from library improvements to other future concerns. He believes the process could keep the city from being saddled with debt.
He used the arena sales tax as an example: under a sales tax, the city’s $4 million in arena costs will likely be paid off in four years. If it’s put on property tax rolls, it would take 20 years.
Council members also commented on what they saw as good relations between the council and the police department on the project. Several said that Bergren and City Administrator Mark Sievert have been very receptive to questions and input.
“With the way it’s set up right now, as we go through some cost concerns and try to see if we can scale it back … I do support it,” said Pat Connelly. “(I) just want to make sure the scaleback has supported the needs we have outlined.”
Thacker said she wanted to hear more from all interested parties.
“I really have had very little public input on it,” she said. “To me it’s just too early to make a decision.”
Eric Shelstad could not be reached for comment.Tags: city council, Police Station