COURIER says yes for new police station; but no on Measure PS

After much collective soul-searching, the COURIER has decided to recommend a no vote on Measure PS, a $50 million bond measure to fund a new police station that will appear on the November 3 ballot. We want it known, however, that we fully support construction of a new facility.

Residents have become aware of the terrible working conditions faced by our police force, and decided they need to be remedied. In that sense, the Measure PS campaign has been hugely successful.

It’s embarrassing to know what poor conditions our officers are working under. In fact, it’s unacceptable. And the problems with our police station go beyond just being outdated and an eyesore. They pose safety and compliance issues, leaving the city vulnerable to accidents and litigation. Unfortunately, the current bond measure—while well-intentioned—is problematic.

At community meetings and in letters to the COURIER, dozens of residents have expressed consternation at the price tag and lack of specifics for the proposed police facility. The lack of enthusiasm doesn’t mean the community doesn’t care. It means we want greater prudence and creativity in the crafting of the bond measure. We urge city staff and council to incorporate the feedback that has been gathered.

There really is no mechanism to take that input and apply it to the proposal when the particulars of the measure are already set in ink. Since day one, it’s felt like a one-way street. The city’s goal has been to explain how they reached a price tag of $50 million, not use the public input to address concerns or make the measure better. The lack of a “plan b” has turned town halls into occasions to simply promote the bill, which is off-putting to voters.

Like a recent bond measure that was rejected for the schools, Measure PS lacks real specifics on how the money is going to be spent. Given the number-one issue is the overall size and cost of the measure, these details are critical in justifying the price tag. The current city administration is fully capable of managing the Measure PS budget. This is not an issue of trust.

The city selected the parcel tax mechanism to include nonprofits, schools and the Colleges in the payback. The parcel tax, however, results in residents paying an extra $400,000 annually. The city’s effort to make contributions more equitable will cost more than $17 million over the life of the bond. A general obligation bond is a more sensible financing method for a project this size.

In the end, our objection is one shared by many residents. Nearly everyone is in agreement that the city needs a new police station. But the proposal needs to be fine-tuned, with a reduction of costs overall. It’s especially important that the city show a bit more fiscal conservatism at a time when Claremonters are still paying for the bonds used to fund the acquisition of Johnson’s Pasture and to fuel the effort to acquire the water system.

We don’t recommend starting from scratch. The conceptual plans are close, but there are some lingering questions. The location works, but can we slightly reduce the size of the buildings? Can we move the proposed station closer to the city yard so that less land can be purchased? Can a better deal be worked out with Holliday Rock and for the site work? Can we eliminate the 40-year finance of the radio communication system and find a separate funding source for that $3.8 million? Given the volume of calls our police respond to at the Colleges, can they pony up more than $1 million?

With an expense this large, the timing will never be perfect. There will always be projects and financial issues the city is wrestling with. A new police station will always seem expensive and, if we keep kicking this can down the road, it won’t get any cheaper.

We urge the city council and staff to move quickly. Ideally, Measure PS could be modified and reintroduced at the June 7, 2016 primary election, giving city staff a few months to digest resident feedback and present a plan we will all get behind.

We’re a thoughtful community that is willing to undertake obligations because it’s the right thing to do. And here we want to do the right thing for our police. Let’s do the right thing well.

—COURIER editorial staff


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