Bexley Council bites the bullet to finance police station

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 Messenger photo by John Matuszak
Bexley City Council has voted to replace the 55-year-old police station, right, with existing funds rather than asking residents to approve a tax hike for the project. The service garage, behind the station, will be demolished and its operations relocated to make room for the station. Mold grows on the ceiling tiles above the police firing range, where the roof leaks and puddles form after it rains. Old equipment and crowded quarters are other conditions officers have endured.

Bexley City Council has decided not to ask residents for a tax increase to finance the construction of a new police station, and now will have to figure out how to finance the $6 million project without breaking the bank.

On July 24, council voted to withdraw a resolution placing a bond issue on the November ballot for the station that will replace the crowded, 55-year-old building now in use.

Councilmen Matt Lampke and John Rohyans had supported seeking additional funds from a tax issue, while the remaining representatives argued for using available money to cover the debt from borrowing.

The Franklin County auditor had certified that a $6 million, 25-year bond issue would have cost the owner of a $200,000 home $62 a year in additional taxes.

The few residents who attended a public hearing before the vote had mixed views on the issue.

Joyce Katz favored going to the voters, and characterized the meeting as a "done deal" to decide "which pocket to take the money out of."

Katz had toured the police station before the meeting and conceded that upgrades were necessary, but still questioned whether the department needed to move from a 5,000 square-foot structure to the 19,000 square-foot building being planned.

Rohyans informed Katz that discussions on the size of the building had taken place over the past two years, and that architects had determined that this is the minimum space needed.

"That means it has been four times under the size we need for 10 years," Rohyans said.

Ellen Bennett, whose husband is a retired Bexley police officer, backed the council members who bypassed the ballot.

"I feel you are our elected officials, and we elected you to make these decisions," said Bennett, earning a hug from Chief Larry Rinehart, who has pushed hard for moving forward in his few months on the job.

Lee Nathans, a member of the Bexley Police Community Advisory Committee for 10 years, strongly recommended using the available funds.

Mayor David Madison had also supported using money in the general fund to finance the station, while Auditor Larry Heiser urged going to the ballot for additional funds.

Rohyans has warned that the $6 million surplus in the city coffers can’t be expected to last with the city already borrowing for the new pool and other projects.

The city is already projected to spend $2 million more than it takes in by the end of 2008.

The next step, according to City Attorney James Gross, is to amend a resolution passed last year approving the reimbursement of $5.3 million to the general fund through the issuing of bonds.

A preliminary estimate from architects for the construction of the police station is $5.3 million, but the city will incur additional costs through the demolition of the service department garage and the relocation of its operations, to make way for the station.

The city will also be paying to renovate the existing station for use as city hall offices, council chambers and public meeting space.

The decision will have an impact on budget talks set to begin in the fall.

Architects are expected to have final construction drawings and cost estimates by the end of August. With the figures in hand, the administration will be able to seek bids on the project.

During the finance committee meeting that preceded the regular meeting, Lampke said that, if council elected to forego a ballot issue, he wanted to see officials return with recommendations for budget reductions to cover the $450,000 in debt payments the city will be taking on.

Council is expecting to meet in August, when it usually recesses, to begin discussions on the next year’s budget.

Counting the costs

Bryan Horne, of Horne and King architects, presented a preliminary $5.3 million estimate of the station at a July 19 finance committee meeting.

The figure includes $3.7 million for construction, along with expenditures for fees and miscellaneous expenses, plus a contingency fund.

Construction costs are about $190 per square foot, which Horne called "very reasonable."

The estimate is about $1 million over earlier projections, according to the architect.

Plans call for building the new station at the north end of the city hall lot and using the existing building for council chambers, city offices and public meetings.

This would require demolishing the service department garage and moving that operation to a lot at Fifth and Cassady avenues. Negotiations are under way for that purchase.

The $100,000 cost for demolition is included in the latest estimates, Horne said. But the $150,000 to move the service department, and $350,000 to renovate the existing police building, are not.

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