Archive for Tuesday, June 14, 2011

City to negotiate financing for new combined station

June 14, 2011

The Tonganoxie City Council voted Monday to have staff negotiate $1 million in financing needed to purchase and renovate a 10,800 square-foot building in the Urban Hess Industrial Park for use as a police station and annex fire station.

The decision, which Councilman Dennis Bixby voted against, does not obligate the city to purchase the former building or renovate it for the two departments’ use. But with it, City Administrator Mike Yanez will start talks on financing options to bring back to the council what he called “a $1 million solution to a $4 million problem.”

A new police station and a fire station annex are needs identified in the city’s capital improvement plan. The proposed police headquarters’ move would also allow squeezed City Hall offices to expand into what is now the police station. It is estimated addressing all those needs as envisioned in the capital improvement plan would cost $4.3 million.

The estimated cost of renovating the old Right Choice building is $1.2 million, but $200,000 in bonds meant for the expansion of the Fourth Street fire station would be applied to the proposed project.

Last month, Fire Chief Dave Bennett and Police Chief Jeff Brandau told the council they had negotiated the purchase of the building from First State Bank & Trust for $582,000. The cost of remodeling the building and site is estimated at $534,398 with $99,000 more pegged for design and contingency.

It was previously proposed the city would secure a loan requiring payments on only the interest during the first three years of its term. That would allow the city to retire an existing debt before starting to repay the principal on the loan in 2016 and, in turn, allow the purchase and renovation of the building with no increase to the mill levy.

The potential long-term savings from the purchase of the building was discussed when the two chiefs first brought the proposal to the council in April. In addition to a rehash of those numbers, two new issues were brought up during Monday’s debate. They were the desirability of moving the police station from downtown to the location north of U.S. Highway 24-40 and the cost the city is paying for engineering services as estimated in the proposal for the building’s renovation and in general.

Councilmen Chris Donnelly and Bill Peak said residents had questioned the move of the police department from downtown. Peak said a number of downtown business owners were concerned it would further erode the downtown, but he said skepticism about the move went deeper.

“I’ve talked to 30 to 40 residents,” Peak said. “I have not heard one comment from a citizen who thinks it’s a great idea to move out there. The perception is it’s out in the middle of nowhere.”

The focus of the department is to get police officers on the street, so the change should not affect downtown security, Police Chief Jeff Brandau said. But his recommendation the council approve the move was based on the need to replace the department’s current inadequate headquarters, which are cramped, offer no privacy for interview or interrogations and havr security shortcomings, he said.

Brandau and Yanez looked at other downtoown sites but found they lacked the needed space or parking, the police chief said. They also would not address the need for a fire station annex, he said.

He was looking to “kill multiple birds with one stone” through the proposal, Bennett said. The annex would reduce the distance, and response times, to Jackson Heights and Chestnut, it could potentially reduce the ISO rating insurance companies use to set rates on businesses and home and would relief overcrowded conditions in the current fire station, he said.

Also catching the attention of the council was the $41,000 in estimated engineering design fees in the renovation proposal. Peak characterized the figure as “ludicrous” and “outrageous,” and Councilman Dennis Bixby proposed limiting the city administrator’s purchasing authority to $1,000 as a way to curbing the city’s engineering design expenses.

In the end, the majority of the council agreed Monday it was good to have too high an estimate when discussing financing, but with Councilmen Jim Truesdell and Chris Donnelly having expressed their own concerns over the city’s expenses and policies for professional services in recent months, it was agreed to revisit the issue in the future.

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