Police chief to search for options for new station
The Tonganoxie City Council gave Police Chief Jeff Brandau permission Monday to “window shop” for a new home for his department.
Brandau told the council that an existing mold problem in the police station worsened with a leak in a rooftop water heater, which soaked sheetrock and other structural components in the building.
The mold problem that plagues the police department, council chamber and City Hall was documented in a two-year-old report, which wasn’t acted on because the remediation price exceeded $800,000.
The latest leak and resulting mold has made rooms in the station unusable, created an odor, made some employees ill and prompted one employee to report the situation to the Kansas Department of Health and Environment, Brandau said.
“They (KDHE) are going to come up with a plan for remediation in the best interest of our employees,” he said.
But the chief said the station’s problems exceeded that looming expense. The current station was simply too small for the department’s needs, he said.
Brandau asked for the council’s blessing to look at vacant buildings in the city, check their costs, develop estimates of the costs to remodel them for the department’s needs and the cost to move.
“Maybe now is not the time, but maybe it is because there are these facilities that I think could be available at an attractive price,” Brandau said.
City Administrator Mike Yanez said that when Brandau asked him about window-shopping for the police department, he suggested that while looking the chief also consider space for other city needs.
The need for city offices was nothing new, Yanez said. The city was looking at plans for a new city hall/police station complex about four years ago, but that was put on hold when it was discovered the old municipal pool was failing and needed to be replaced.
More space was still needed and there remained the mold problems in the three buildings, Yanez said.
Council members gave Brandau permission to look around, but did voice concern about the future cost. The chief’s request came after the city financial advisor, Tom Kaleko of Springsted Inc., shared a report from Moody’s, which cautioned the city could see lower bond ratings if it continued on its current course.
The report was included in a bond rating Moody’s issued with the city refinancing of $1.7 million in temporary notes issued two years ago to purchase the land for a future industrial park south of the city. The refinancing was successful Monday when Country Club Bank, in partnership with First State Bank and Trust of Tonganoxie, bought the bonds at an interest rate of 1.61 percent. The refinancing will save the city $130,000, Kaleko said.
Moody’s concerns were the city’s negative revenue-to-expense balance, the erosion of its reserve accounts and its growing debt profile, Kaleko said.
Council members Chris Donnelly and Bill Peak have voiced concern about those issues since joining the council late this summer and expressed new concern with regard to Brandau’s request.
Peak said an adequate police station should be a city priority but wondered how worthwhile Brandau’s search would be if the city couldn’t afford a change. He suggested the council establish how much the city could afford before Brandau began his search.
The Moody’s report and the possible need for a new police station underscored the need for the council to get a clear understanding of the city’s debt and future capital needs, Donnelly said.
Mayor Jason Ward agreed such a comprehensive approach was needed but supported Brandau’s search.
“I don’t think there is any question we have to look at evaluating our situation,” he said. “Now, if we potentially have more and further contamination, that puts us in a position to figure out what our options are.”