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City to take final stab at financing new police station

The Claremont City Council wants to bring the potential new police station plans to the public for their input.

That was the directive Tuesday night, when the council voted unanimously to set up several meetings throughout the fall to educate Claremonters on the specifics of the plan. Notably, they want the public’s opinion on what funding structure they would support: a parcel tax or a general obligation (GO) bond.

The council stressed that educating the people is imperative to the success of the measure. Mayor Larry Schroeder emphasized that time to educate would go quickly before the June 5, 2018 ballot.

“We do have to act soon, because the longer we wait, the more it’s going to cost,” he said.

The plans were the result of over a year and a half of meetings by the police facility ad hoc committee, a 15-member group of residents assembled in January 2016 by then-Mayor Corey Calaycay in the wake of the failure of Measure PS at the polls the previous November. Measure PS asked voters for up to $50 million to build the station, a figure many residents said was too high.

The new plan slashed costs to $25 million, with construction of a 26,000 square-foot multi-level station to be built on the same site as the current station at 570 West Bonita Avenue. About $1.5 million for furniture and equipment—soft costs—will be covered by the general fund. Claremont Police Chief Shelly Vander Veen told the council she was confident the new station would fit the department’s needs for the next 40 years.

But one aspect of the plan divided members of the committee—the method of funding. When the plans were first presented to the council in September 2016, a GO bond was part of a larger combination of general fund contributions and a PILOT (payment in lieu of taxes) from the Claremont University Consortium (CUC).

Annual payments by residents under a GO bond are estimated at $1.246 million, dropping to $1.045 million under a square footage parcel tax. Specific costs per homeowner would depend on the size of their lot.

And the possibility of a sizeable voluntary contribution from the Claremont Colleges is dwindling under either funding mechanism. The CUC made it clear during the last committee meeting in June that it would only contribute a percentage of the bond cost that is equal to the amount of calls the Colleges make to the Claremont Police Department.

As the average percentage of calls over a four-year span is around three percent, that would amount to a maximum $750,000 contribution. Comparatively, the CUC offered a one-time contribution of $1 million, at the behest of the city, toward Measure PS in 2015 if the measure passed. 

This led some members of the committee to look toward a parcel tax, a fixed rate based on square-footage of buildings per parcel from which the CUC would not be exempt. Under a GO bond, colleges and nonprofits would not be paying toward the bond measure.

Either funding mechanism requires a two-thirds majority to pass. In the end, the ad hoc committee voted 7-5 in favor of a GO bond, a divided figure that gave the council pause.

Under a GO bond, the Claremont Colleges would pay $16,003 per year based on its residential property ownership. Under a parcel tax, the Colleges would contribute $185,704 each year based on all properties owned—a cost difference of $4.24 million over 25 years.

Committee member Jim Keith, however, found the increased Colleges contribution misleading, claiming it would only go toward offsetting the higher financing cost under a parcel tax.

“If you look at these numbers and compare what you’re actually getting from the Colleges to the $2.27 million debt service increase, you’re only getting benefit from 53 percent of that college payment,” Mr. Keith said during public comment.

Both Mr. Keith and Parker Emerson took issue with the CUC’s three percent contribution, with Mr. Emerson calling it “silly.”

“It’s a number pulled out of nowhere,” Mr. Emerson said. “If I did that for my application, I’ve lived here for 20 years and called the police department once, I should pay about 10 bucks for this.”

Committee member Helaine Goldwater urged the council to make a decision on the funding mechanism that night, as opposed to taking it to the public.

“I don’t think it’s wise to throw that out there,” she said. “Make a decision and go with it and let us get started on educating the community.”

Mayor Pro Tem Opanyi Nasiali noted the last time the council made a decision on funding for Measure PS it ended up failing.

“This time, I think with the ad hoc committee recommendations and my bush upbringing of ‘don’t let the same snake bite you twice,’ I don’t want to do that again,” he said.

Councilmember Sam Pedroza agreed, emphasizing that the city has “one more bite at this” for a new police station, and wanted as much community involvement as possible.

Councilmember Joe Lyons, who was in favor of a parcel tax as a way to get all city entities to pay into the bond, took issue with the three percent Colleges contribution figure as well. He suggested that the percentage was “somewhat belied by the advertising they provide related to the safety of the Claremont community to all prospective students that they encourage to come here.”

He was also concerned about bringing the plans to the public.

“I don’t think we’ll get the kind of consensus or even close to a consensus on a funding mechanism that my colleagues hope to get,” he said. “But only an exercise in the kind of futility that only comes out of those meetings.”

Assistant City Manager Colin Tudor said the city was willing to hold four to six public meetings about the plan, as well as meeting with six community groups, throughout September, October and November, in time for the council to weigh in once again in December. Specifics on those meetings, including dates and locations, will be revealed within the next couple of weeks, according to City Manager Tony Ramos.

A polling company, Probolsky Research, will also gauge opinions of likely voters during October and November, after a few meetings have taken place, Mr. Tudor said. The city gave no estimate as to the cost of services provided by the polling company.

The motion to gather community input regarding a preferred funding mechanism was passed unanimously.

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