by Terry Rogers
On Monday, February 24, Milford City Council discussed several funding options for a new police station. Council looked at the options of whether to use money from electric reserves toward the station or whether to issue bonds for the full amount of the new station which is estimated at more than $18 million.
“We looked into using the old Armory back around 2010 or 2011,” Chief Kenneth Brown said. “The cost estimates for it was about the same as a new building at the time. Also, the Armory sits in a residential area which would not be ideal for our use and we would be landlocked there as we are now. Having us located on Airport Road is not ideal because we would be on one end of town. A response to the south end of town would lengthen our response times. It would also mean that we would have to cross a highway for just about every call we would be responding to from the station.”
Chief Brown explained that the City has been looking into options for operational needs almost since he began with the department in 1988. The Chief stated that the department has been adapting the current building in almost every way that they could since then.
“Offices designed for one now accommodate two,” Chief Brown said. “This building was never handicapped accessible. We have done some things to make it better in this area but are still only steps to downstairs. We now have made our exercise and training room into a locker room because our existing locker room was not big enough for all of our officers. We have made many other alterations to the building to make it work. We looked into the old Middle School but renovations to that building were also cost prohibitive.”
Acting City Manager Mark Whitfield explained that the City needed to focus on consolidating staff in buildings, not fractionalizing by creating satellite police locations throughout the City. The Planning and Zoning Office is now housed with Public Works which assists with productivity and collaboration. When the City decided to purchase the land across from the police station for a potential new building around 10 years ago, it was because that location was ideal in terms of police response time for the entire City.
The decision on how to fund the new station had to be made at the Monday meeting in order to place the referendum on the ballot during Council elections planned for the end of April. The first option discussed was to use $3 million from electric reserves and borrow $15.429 million for the station, resulting in a potential tax increase of $180 per year. The second option was to borrow the entire $18.4 million and preserve electric reserves which would result in an average increase of $210 per year. Three residents spoke up during the public comment portion of the meeting in support of the second option.
“I agree with the staff recommendation to go with the second option,” Sara Pletcher said. “Voters are going to vote yes or no regardless of the amount of the increase so a $30 difference is not going to change their vote. We need a new police station and I think the second option gives you a better chance of success with the voters. You also must remember that there are people who pay city electric but do not get the benefits of the police. For example, Shawnee Acres residents have City of Milford electric but they must call the state police if they need assistance. Taking the money from electric reserves means they are paying for services they are not getting.”
Joe Wiley and Nina Pletcher both felt that the City would have a better chance of passing a referendum if they simply borrowed the full amount.
“My personal opinion from a business perspective is that if Milford has such a large electric reserves amount, they should lower rates with that money rather than use it for a police station,” Wiley said. “This would give residents more incentive to vote for the higher tax rate if their electric rates were lower.
Initially, Council passed the first option, to pull $3 million from electric reserves. However, because the second option was on the agenda, Acting City Solicitor Jamie Sharp had to research whether Council must also vote for the second option. After much discussion, Sharp explained that anyone who voted yes for the first option could request to amend their vote in order to consider the second option. Councilman Doug Morrow, who voted yes initially, agreed to amend the vote in order to consider the second option.
“One of the citizen’s major concerns is safety,” Councilman Jason James said. “The story they have spoken to us is simple. The police station was built forever ago, and we have doubled the size of the force. We must build a new station.”
Councilman Owen Brooks agreed, stating that if the public could see what the police deal with now, they would not be opposed to a new station.
“I think we all agree that we need a police station, but if you want a large sum of money at a time, I think $180 or $200 a year is not a significant enough difference to most voters,” Wiley said during additional public comment. “You need transparency and if your utilities are set up in baskets, they need to be kept that way. If you have the money, you can give it back to the public. I don’t care because I will vote yes no matter which option you choose, but if you give everyone a lower electric rate, they may be willing to put that towards the police department.” A second vote led Council to choose the second option, borrowing the full $18.4 million.
On Tuesday, February 25, the City presented options for the exterior of the building, asking residents to choose which they prefer. They also provided details on the problems that exist with the current station. This includes the type of materials used such as wood, stone, brick, metal and more. Since the plan is to build a station with a community room, Chief Brown said that the City wants to build something the public is proud of and they also hope to answer any questions the public may have regarding the new station.
“One thing we are not sure about is whether we will be able to use state bond monies to lower the cost of the building,” Whitfield said. “It appears that if we use the $300,000 that may be available from state bond funds, it will come with the caveat that we must use prevailing wages on the entire project. If this is the case, it could add 30 to 35 percent to the cost of the building which equates to $3 to $5 million added to an $18.4 million project. Therefore, we will probably look into other areas we can use the $300,000 rather than this project.”
During the presentation, Chief Brown provided details on the limitations in the current building.
“Our patrol officers have to park in the parking lot and then remove prisoners from their cars and walk them into the building,” Chief Brown said. “This is a safety issue if the prisoner escapes and runs into traffic or the river. It is also inappropriate to be walking handcuffed prisoners across the parking lot in front of the public who are going by or could be sitting in visitor parking lots. The building was constructed on the sight of a closed wastewater treatment facility. Quite often, mitigation steps must be taken to clear sewer gas odors from the building which can be quite sickening.” In addition, there is only one interrogation room which means officers must often interview victims in the lobby where others can hear the conversation. Criminals and their alleged victims must often sit in the lobby together which can lead to additional issues.
A second meeting is planned for Tuesday, March 10 at Carlisle Fire Company at 7 PM for those who could not attend the February 25 meeting.