by TJ Sullivan, Huggins Insurance in partnership with Bliss Sequoia

I chaired the task force on the siting of the police facility and one of our recommendations was for the City to hire a police facilities expert to assist determining the right size, both for now and future growth. The City followed our direction and the result was a recommendation for a police facility of about 150,000 sq. ft.

Some in the community are claiming the following:

We don’t need this big of a facility.

We can’t afford the $85 million dollar price tag.

We can save money by not including the 911 Call Center in the new design.

We have to retrofit City Hall and the Library with the same bond.

We can build precincts later.

We can build one for $17 million like Eugene.

Let’s break this down from a fundamental standpoint:

Salem has 187 police officers and 116 other employees and they work in 26,000 sq. ft. of space. The City of Keizer has roughly 1/5 the police officers and other employees and they have 28,000 sq. ft. of space. Keizer’s police facility was designed by experts and it is an extremely efficient design. It allows for all of the needs of a Police Department to occur seamlessly and they are prepared for growth. Salem’s facility needs to be of the same quality and be appropriately sized for our community, just like Keizer’s.

You will hear a lot about the price tag because when you throw around $85 million people think of their own budget and it feels overwhelming. In reality, for a home appraised at $200,000 the property tax works out to about $9.00 a month this facility, once the facility is fully built out. If the bond is passed in November of 2016, then some money will be spent in 2017 acquiring the property, paying for plans/drawings/designs, obtaining permits, etc. Construction may begin in 2017, but most likely it wouldn’t be done until 2019. At that point, taxpayers would see the full amount on their property tax bill. However, in 2024, and this is a critical piece of the puzzle, the majority of the bonded debt that we are servicing will be paid off. If we pass no other bonds, the police facility would be the only bonded debt we would have. So for 5 years, people would feel the extra payment for this facility. After that, the tax rate would drop as other debt is retired. The experts have told us repeatedly that the most expensive, least efficient, thing we could do is to under build now and try to add on in the future.

The 911 Call Center is located off site in a building that the City leases. The building doesn’t meet Homeland Security standards, is not sized for growth, and is located on a street corner where someone could easily drive a vehicle straight into it. The people who work in this facility want to be with the rest of their team. It makes sense to put them with the rest of their team. As one police officer recently told my neighborhood association, it is also a matter of police officer safety. There have been times when officers need to get out of their car quickly and they don’t always have time to tell the operator who it is. Something as simple as being able to recognize a voice and radio for help is lost because 911 operators don’t know police officers by their face. In addition, our 911 call center makes money for our police department by providing service to other jurisdictions, this investment makes sense from a safety aspect and as a business decision.

Voters like to take issues one at a time. Trying to load up a bond with two separate issues confuses the matter and spreads a campaign thin. We saw this with the failed Cops & Kids campaign and some people want us to repeat the mistake. We should take care of first responders first, and then take care of retrofitting City Hall and the Library. We can’t touch City Hall until the Police are out because with them in the building all retrofit work has to be done to Homeland Security standards which are way higher than what a typical building requires.

Precincts don’t make sense until you get 300+ officers – according to the people who are experts in this arena. They are actually quite expensive because there are duplicate costs for staffing that you need to have at any police facility. At some point Salem will be big enough to justify this and if there are bond savings I would encourage the City of Salem to acquire land (out on Portland Rd.) and bank it for a long time for a future police precinct.    

We toured Eugene’s Police Station with their Chief. They are in a renovated office building. Over and over again their Chief told us how inefficient their building was and how it made their department less efficient. Why would we want this for our police department? Why would anyone want that for their police department? In Eugene, there is still a real anti-establishment sentiment and an anti-police sentiment that just isn’t rational. Repeating that mistake here just doesn’t make any sense.

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