Chief: U Motors police station would delay services [UPDATED]Published 10:47am Tuesday, May 3, 2011 Updated 11:43am Tuesday, May 3, 2011
It’s remote, it could delay response times, and it would require hiring more personnel. Those are three of the reasons Police Chief Kile Bergren gave Monday as to why the former U Motors building might not be the best choice for a police station in Fergus Falls.
Bergren gave his frank assessment of the site during a city council meeting, stating that while the police department could definitely make U Motors work, it is not ideal and could end up costing the city more in the long run.
“I worked with Bill Sonmor on looking at the costs for operating out of both facilities,” Bergren said. He also continues to work with the project’s architect, Shultz & Associates, on lowering the cost estimate for a brand new police station across from city hall.
Right now, the projected construction and purchasing cost for the new building (including furnishings) is $5.91 million, down from about $6.5 million. The same costs for the U Motors building total $3.25 million. To pay off bonds with property taxes over 20 years, the city would pay $235,000 annually for U Motors and $428,500 for the new building.
However, there are hidden costs. Utility costs at U Motors are expected to be higher, particularly because the new building will save money by using geothermal heat. Also, Bergren said that a move to U Motors would require the department to hire an additional police officer and a transcriptionist to take dictated police reports from officers. The department’s transcriptionist positions were eliminated in 2009.
“I think sometimes there’s the perception out there in the public that there’s an officer waiting at a street corner for you to call and they can be there in a few minutes,” said Bergren.
In reality, he said, the LGA cuts that forced the police department to eliminate transcriptionist positions also forces police officers to be in the police station much of the time, filing paperwork. He estimated that about twice a day, there are no police actively out patrolling because they are doing paperwork at the office or occupied on a call somewhere in the city. The paperwork load has increased significantly for officers now that there are no transcriptionists.
Bergren explained that the number the police department employs is on the low side compared to other municipalities of Fergus Falls’ size.
“We can accomplish that by having a centralized location,” he said.
If there is an emergency call in downtown or most of the rest of the city, police at the current temporary station by Sunmart can be there in about two minutes, Bergren explained, displaying a map that shows that about 80 percent of Fergus Falls would be in a one-mile radius of a station across from city hall. In the U Motors building, city hall, the county courthouse, and homes near and surrounding Lake Alice would all be more than two miles away, with some far eastern sections of the city (by Hoot and Pebble lakes, for example) being over four miles away – a much longer drive for officers doing paperwork at the station or backup officers responding to an emergency situation.
If the police moved to U Motors, said Bergren, the department would have to hire an extra police officer and transcriptionist to fully cover the city from a patrol standpoint and to lower response time by decreasing the amount of paperwork. He added that increased response time has been a big concern among most members of the public he has talked to.
“If we were to build downtown, we would not need to hire those people,” said Bergren, who added that even if the department needed to hire more people down the road, the need would only increase at the U Motors building. He added that the cost of hiring new employees would eventually make the U Motors location more expensive as the two salaries increased over time.
The council will hold another work session on the police station after the current state legislative session ends, in order to discuss the building in light of local government aid and the ice arena sales tax. While some council members, chief among them Randy Synstelien, have discussed waiting to build any sort of new police building until the ice arena project is paid off, Bergren stated in no uncertain terms his thoughts on the cramped, temporary quarters the department has been in since last fall.
“When we moved in there, we were given direction to spend ‘X’ amount of dollars, and that was the best we could find for the money,” he said of the headquarters cobbled together from the former sites of the Lighthouse Energy Building and Steve’s Cycle. “It is dysfunctional, it is not practical, and we keep a good morale under the auspice that this was going to be temporary.”Tags: Police Station