City suspends police station project

Published 12:33 am Thursday, June 16, 2011

A lack of funding has handcuffed, for now, the effort to build a new police station in Washington.

During their meeting Monday, Washington City Council members agreed to suspend that effort. While that effort is on hold, city officials will seek additional funding for the project and look at alternatives that would allow the city to build the new police station. The mayor and council made it clear they are not abandoning the project, emphasizing it will be one of the new city manager’s top priorities when he begins working for the city this summer.

In April, the city chose Joshua L. Kay, former manager of Clinton, S.C., as its next city manager. He begins his new job Aug. 1.

The total cost of the police station project — construction, site preparation, soil analysis, architectural/engineering fees, moving costs and other fees — comes to an estimated $4.3 million, according to figures provided to the council. The construction cost and site work cost combined come to $3.22 million. At the council’s March 8 meeting, the council decided it wants the project cost closer to $3 million rather than $4.3 million.

The council is on record as supporting allocating $3 million for the new station, with $1 million in revenue coming from the city’s public-safety reserve fund, another $1 million borrowed from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and $1 million from other sources, including grants.

The estimated $1.3 million in costs above the $3 million the council is willing to spend concerns the council.
Councilman Doug Mercer said the figures show the city should stop the project for now, take a closer look at project finances and determine how to proceed with the project. Mercer said he believes changes to the proposed design for the facility could result in cost savings to the city.

Matt Rauschenbach, the city’s chief financial officer and assistant city manager, reviewed financial information related to the new police station with the mayor and council. Rauschenbach expressed some concerns with the possibility of borrowing the money to cover the estimated $1.3 million shortfall between the $3 million approved by the council for the project and the estimated project cost of $4.3 million.

“Based on the figures you just went over, the council is still ready to move forward on a $3 million police station. … The challenge on that … is deciding if we can accommodate our needs inside that $3 million,” Mayor Archie Jennings said in reply to Rauschenbach’s remarks about the project.

“Staff has been unable to accomplish that objective,” Rauschenbach said.

USDA appears willing to lend the city up to $3 million for the project and spread the loan payments over 40 years instead of 30 years, he said while indicating that may not be the wise thing to do.

“If you put it on the shelf and take it back off, it’s going to be $4 million, plus or minus, … unless there’s another configuration,” Rauschenbach said.

Council members also talked about letting the project proceed to the bidding stage, which would had added another $116,000 to the $140,000 the city has spent during the design-development phase. Councilman Gil Davis advocated letting the project proceed to the bidding stage.

Council member William Pitt said he favored continuing with the project. Pitt said the city has no choice but to build a new police station because the existing one does not meet current standards. Because it does not meet those standards, state and federal officials are pressuring the city to build a new police facility, he said. Pitt said there’s a reason the city began pursuing building a new police station.

“We did it because we were forced to. … This is something we have to do to make our community safer,” Pitt said.

“The requirements of the state and federal government are not going to stop because we are at a funding impasse,” Pitt said.

Councilman Ed Moultrie concurred. Washington’s residents and Washington Police Department personnel deserve a safe, adequately equipped new police station, he said.

“We’re in agreement that we need a new facility, but finding the money is going to be pretty difficult,” Jennings said. “I think what you’re missing is staff is saying, ‘You can’t go out and borrow money. We can’t afford it.’”

While the project is on hold, efforts to ascertain if the city could receive slightly more than $1 million in funding from federal sources continues.

The city could realize a net of $600,000 in “buyout” money from the Federal Emergency Management Agency. FEMA could provide money to the city to demolish the existing 36-year-old police station on West Third Street and leave that site vacant because it’s in the 100-year flood zone. The city could realize a net gain of $600,000 if it accepts the FEMA funds.

By incorporating an emergency-operations center as part of the new police station, the city could receive $457,000 in grant funds to help make that happen. Part of the new police station could double as an emergency-operations center, not only for the city but for eastern North Carolina.

About Mike Voss

Mike Voss is the contributing editor at the Washington Daily News. He has a daughter and four grandchildren. Except for nearly six years he worked at the Free Lance-Star in Fredericksburg, Va., in the early to mid-1990s, he has been at the Daily News since April 1986.
Journalism awards:
• Pulitzer Prize for Meritorious Public Service, 1990.
• Society of Professional Journalists: Sigma Delta Chi Award, Bronze Medallion.
• Associated Press Managing Editors’ Public Service Award.
• Investigative Reporters & Editors’ Award.
• North Carolina Press Association, First Place, Public Service Award, 1989.
• North Carolina Press Association, Second Place, Investigative Reporting, 1990.
All those were for the articles he and Betty Gray wrote about the city’s contaminated water system in 1989-1990.
• North Carolina Press Association, First Place, Investigative Reporting, 1991.
• North Carolina Press Association, Third Place, General News Reporting, 2005.
• North Carolina Press Association, Second Place, Lighter Columns, 2006.
Recently learned he will receive another award.
• North Carolina Press Association, First Place, Lighter Columns, 2010.
4. Lectured at or served on seminar panels at journalism schools at UNC-Chapel Hill, University of Maryland, Columbia University, Mary Washington University and Francis Marion University.

email author More by Mike