Marie Roggenkamp / Daily Journal: The former location of the US Bank branch in downtown Fergus Falls is one of three Fergus Falls Police Station options.

Archived Story

City: Police station can’t wait long [UPDATED]

Published 11:03am Tuesday, August 9, 2011 Updated 11:03am Tuesday, August 9, 2011

The Fergus Falls City Council will likely move forward on a new police station sooner rather than later. That was the consensus at their Monday night work session held at the city fire hall.

City Administrator Mark Sievert began the meeting by addressing the desire by some to wait on a new police station until a local option sales tax can be instituted to raise money for it. The problem, he said, is that the city must wait a year after their upcoming sales tax (for the ice arena) is ended, likely meaning that the tax couldn’t begin until 2017 at the earliest.

It was generally agreed that the council did not want to wait that long, especially with the leases expiring on the police department in 2012.

“I think both (building owners) kind of indicated that the buildings were for sale,” Police Chief Kile Bergren said.

Also, some city staff and aldermen were unconvinced that a sales tax would be passed by the state Legislature because most approved projects are billed as regionally significant.

“To me it only makes sense to be a property tax item,” said Alderman Eric Shelstad, later adding that other possible projects might fit the mold better. “I would say an ice arena and a library are to me very regional.”

Jay Cichosz said waiting for a possible sales tax while not considering other funding would be unwise.

“I’m not in favor of just delaying the project while we speculate where the funds may or may not come from,” he said.

Design advisor David Schultz said the city could start work on the station now or wait until a later date. It was not decided when action would be taken, but if design work is approved for the fall, the station would likely open around June 2013.

The majority of the meeting was spent discussing the three main possible locations for the station: a new building to be constructed across from city hall on Washington Avenue, the U Motors building on the far west side of town (Frontier Drive), and the former US Bank building at 225 West Cavour Ave., a previously-considered option that found new life when the building’s owner, Bremer Bank, announced in May that it would not be opening a new branch on the site.

“These three options I feel are all viable options,” said Bergren, explaining that the police would be able to work out of any of them if allowed the proper adjustments, but he and city staff have recommended the new building option because of its central location, adequate space needs and room to expand. However, it is the most expensive option, with construction and move-in costs totaling $5.8 million (although the city has already paid $1.2 million of that cost to purchase the property).

The Bremer option ($4.87 million) would have enough room, even a few thousand square feet more than the downtown site. But there would be no space for the building to expand outward, and several business owners have told Bergren that the construction of a police parking garage on an adjacent city parking lot could hurt their businesses.

The U Motors building is the cheapest of the lot with a construction and move-in cost of $3.88 million (with a leasing option also on the table), but its placement on the far west side of town means that response times during busy hours (when police are sent out from the office) would be slowed significantly to residential areas, where the bulk of the calls come from. Bergren has asked the city to hire another officer and a transcriptionist if the move to U Motors was made, adding an annual cost of $106,000 and making U Motors annual cost (utilities, debt service and employee salaries) more expensive than the Bremer location. A few residents at the meeting took issue with Bergren’s statement, arguing that there are already enough police officers around town.

Bergren added that while the city’s population hasn’t grown, the number of police calls that come in increase annually.

“We can keep our staffing levels lower and augment that from the office because we’re centrally located,” he said.

By the end of the meeting, there was little consensus about which site was best, with aldermen asking Sievert and Bergren for more numbers on residential versus commercial calls and a comparison between the police stations and police departments of Fergus Falls and Alexandria.

Sievert said more meetings would be planned in the months ahead.

  • Jeremy Jenkins

    ok people. how hard does this have to be???

    obviously we need people on the city council that can figure things out a little faster and make some better decisions instead of discussing things out for years.

    HOW MANY BUILDINGS IN THE FERGUS FALLS AREA DO WE HAVE EMPTY?!?!?

    US BANK option – best for centrally located in the town. worst for new construction.

    NEW BUILDING ACROSS FROM CITY HALL – i can see the point in building it. but seriously do we need to waste that amount of money right now?

    U MOTORS – only thing i can see that needs to be spent here would be adding the jail cells. and actually what would be the need to add more than a few with the nice huge jail that we have right down town. have temporary “”CELL”" then transport them to the jail. LEAST MOVE IN COST PERIOD. garage buildings all ready there. biggest downfall is the slowed response time. given time i think they would be able to work things out to the best of there ability.

    YES I AGREE WITH HIRING A FEW NEW POLICE OFFICERS BECAUSE OF COURSE IT WOULD REDUCE THE RESPOND TIME. ALSO WOULD GIVE THE FASTER CALL TIMES TO….
    NEW BUILDING across from city hall – WHAT THE HECK FOR? i do agree it would be nice to have the courthouse and city hall connected in a perfect world BUTB

  • nanajean

    I really am curious how these council members, referred to here as Alderman, manage their property tax increases. It seems they go up every year and we have to really look to see where the newest amount is going to come from. How much can the ordinary citizen take, or should I say give?

  • medlynn

    Just today I drove past the new Police station and jail in Alexandria. Way out in the S.W. section of Alex. Apparently, so called ‘response times’ are not as important there. I find the argument againswt the U Motors location to be patently ridiculous.

  • Jake Krohn

    No one has ever accused Alexandria of having good taste.

    But seriously, apart from the absurdity of putting a police station in a place where virtually no one lives, part of this decision comes down to the type of city we want to be in the future. Personally, I’d like to live in a place that values traditional neighborhood design. These ideas served Fergus Falls quite well in the past — our downtown and its surrounding neighborhoods remains an impressive assemblage of buildings — and we would do well do pursue projects that continue this tradition of density, proximity, and walkability.

    Certainly the recent study that encourages redevelopment of the mill and dairy area in this vein is a step in the right direction. Taking the ideas of this plan to heart and bolstering the downtown area with an attractive police station has the potential to improve the streetscape and thus the desirability and value of the land around it. I don’t imagine our money would have the same multiplier effect on a frontage road along the interstate.

    In these times of dwindling finances, we should be smarter about how we spend our money and do so in a way that makes sense for the next 50, not just five, years. I can easily imagine downtown Fergus Falls being around and viable that long. I’m not as optimistic about the future of anything west of St. Andrews Street. At some point the inevitable rise of energy prices will make clear the absurdity of growing our city in that way.

    One can imagine that the downtown merchants would benefit from the proximity of the station, whose employees might take their lunch at a nearby restaurant or frequent the downtown stores, and that any parking issues would ultimately prove to be nonexistent, as downtown Fergus Falls is already quite awash in places to park.

    Looking to the west, Wahpeton moved their city hall from its downtown location to the north edge of town years ago for similar reasons — versus rehabilitating the existing building to suit ADA requirements, it seemed to be the cheapest option at the time. In hindsight, it certainly didn’t do anything for the city’s fortunes. The vacated building still remains empty and there is a feeling around town that perhaps the move was the wrong decision. I would hate to see Fergus Falls make the same mistake.

  • Sports Guy

    The new police station in Alexandria is about 4 blocks from downtown. I don’t know how more centrally located it could be. and it’s on the NW side of town.
    We need to keep our police station downtown instead of the U Motors location.

  • fergusnative

    Jerry, I agree. Plus look at the money, building new between city hall and the jail for a facility designed for this purpose is 5.8 million (1.2 million already spent for land leaving actual costs of 4.6 million). Buying old US Bank building and renovating it for a police station is 4.87 million (270,000.00 more than building new). Or the old U motors building, 720,000.00 less than building new. But with an increased annual operating cost a 106,000.00, would be more expensive than new after 7 years. To me the smart choice is the washington avenue location.

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