City moves toward new site
The Tonganoxie City Council has instructed city staff to negotiate the purchase of a building in the Urban Hess Industrial Park for use as a police station and the city’s second fire station.
The decision came after Tonganoxie Police Chief Jeff Brandau reported to the council for the first time in open session the results of his investigation into a possible new home for his department. Four months ago, the council approved the chief’s request to look for buildings in the city that could be remodeled to serve as a home to his department.
The police department has outgrown its current home on the corner of Fourth and Delaware streets. The building also has security issues.
The proposed site of the two public safety stations is the former Right Choice building at 1701 Commerce Street, which the First State Bank and Trust owns because of the bankruptcy of the company.
Brandau said the bank’s asking price for the 10,800-square-foot building was $629,000, which might be negotiable. The police chief also presented the council with estimated renovation costs, which were developed after the council had a February executive session on the property. The city’s engineering consulting firm, BG Consultants, Inc., pegged the remodeling costs at $269,731 for the police station and $363,497 for the fire station.
However, the fire department has $200,000 in bond money that was to be used to add three bunkrooms, two bathrooms and increased work bay space at the Fourth Street station. That project was put on hold in October 2010 when bids for the work came in higher than the $200,000 available.
Fire Chief Dave Bennett said a fire station north of U.S. Highway 24-40 was in the city’s capital improvement plan scheduled for 2016 at a cost of $1.3 million, or $900,000 more than the remodeling of the vacant building for the fire department’s needs would cost.
Response time to the southwest part of the city would increase for equipment stored at the new station, Bennett said. On the other hand, it would improve response times to other areas of the city, particularly Jackson Heights.
He predicted the dispersal of equipment would improve the city’s ISO rating, which is used to set homeowners’ insurance rates.
Also on the capital improvement plan is a new City Hall/police headquarters complex with an estimated price tag of $3 million. Taking construction of a new police station out of that equation would greatly lower that cost, Bennett said.
Brandau presented the council with a letter from First State Bank and Trust offering to finance the building’s purchase and renovation. The bank offered to charge interest on the loan only in its first three years, at $21,580 the first year.
That arrangement would allow the city to retire an existing bonded debt obligation, which would in turn allow the city to start making payments for the purchase of the building and its remodeling with no addition to the current mill levy.
Council members were supportive overall of exploring the proposal further. Mayor Jason Ward said the council has continued to put both new stations in the capital improvement plan, knowing they would be needed with the city’s growth. It appeared to be an expensive but smart investment in the city’s future, he said.
Although he agreed with Ward that public safety was city government’s priority, Councilman Bill Peak did caution that the proposal should be considered in the context of the city’s existing debt, its $3.9 million debt ceiling and other coming needs. Those could include the expensive extension of 14th Street should a school bond eventually pass, he said.
“I think it’s a fine thing,” he said. “My message is not on them (the two chiefs) but on use. We have to have a consideration of other things coming.”
With that in mind, the council voted 4-0 (Councilman Chris Donnelly was absent) to instruct city staff to negotiate a purchase price for the building and its financing to bring back to the council.