City: Police station can’t wait longPublished 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.