City proceeds with public safety initiative

Construction is expected to begin in April on a project to replace and renovate aging police and fire department facilities in Grand Junction.

The Grand Junction City Council has directed city staff to proceed with a public safety project to build a new building for police and an emergency dispatch center as well as remodel two police and fire department buildings and two fire stations.

At a total cost of $35 million, the project will be about  two-thirds the size and a third of the expense of a $98 million proposal to build seven buildings rejected by city voters in November 2008. And instead of a sales tax increase, the revised public safety project will be financed through an arrangement involving certificates of participation paid back with annual lease payments.

Grand Junction City Manager Laurie Kadrich said additional police and fire facilities still are needed, but the  project reflects what she said the council and staff have heard from residents for two years. And that is to downsize the scope of the project and use existing buildings and funding.

The project will involve the construction of a new, 58,000 square foot building as well as the remodeling of three existing buildings with a total of about 43,000 square feet. Limited remodeling is planned for a fifth building.

A new building will be constructed near the intersection of Fifth Street and Ute Avenue to house police headquarters and an emergency dispatch center.

Meanwhile, the west wing of the existing police building will be remodeled to serve as the headquarters of the fire department. A building on West Avenue that previously served as a city fleet facility will be remodeled for a police annex. The fire station near the intersection of Sixth Street and Pitkin Avenue will be fully remodeled and updated.

Limited remodeling also is planned for a fire station near the intersection of 28 1/4 and Patterson roads. The station serves an area with one of the highest volumes for fire and ambulance services in the city, Kadrich said.

Construction on the public safety project is expected to begin in April and conclude in the fall of 2012, she said.

Council approval of the revised public safety plan follows two years of discussion over what to do about aging police and fire facilities after a ballot measure failed in November 2008. The measure asked city voters to approve a quarter percent increase in sales tax to fund the construction of seven buildings at a total cost of $98 million. A second question asked voters to waive state constitutional spending limits imposed under the Taxpayers Bill of Rights (TABOR) amendment.

Following the election, city staff and council surveyed citizens and conducted a “listening tour” to discern why the ballot measure failed as well as hear comments about how the city should proceed. A telephone town hall elicited 4,700 responses. While voters expressed confusion over the two ballot questions, they also raised questions about the scope and cost of the initial public safety plan.

In November, a public workshop and open house was held to gather more comments about potential options for moving forward on the project.

Kadrich said voter rejection of the initial public safety proposal in 2008 constituted something of a “blessing in disguise” in that construction costs since have decreased as much as 35 percent.

Moreover, a reduction in city staff in the wake of a recession and declining tax revenues and demand for some city services have allowed for a consolidation of staff at city hall that’s freed up space elsewhere.

New construction and remodeling work will be completed so that it will be possible to expand public safety facilities in the future, she said. The initial public safety proposal also included a municipal court, emergency operations center and parking garage as well as additional neighborhood fire stations.

The city expects to finance the project under an arrangement known as a lease-lease back with certificates of participation.

Jodi Romero, financial operations manager for the city, said the city will lease the public safety buildings to Zions Bank, which will act as a trustee and lease the buildings back to the city for its exclusive use. The arrangement allows the use of the property as collateral for certificates of participation sold to investors.

The city will pay back investors over a 30-year period in the form of annual lease payments of $2.2 million, Romero said. The city will make the lease payments with $500,000 from the surcharge on telephone bills to fund 911 service as well as $1.7 million from the capital construction fund.

Kadrich said the financing arrangement allows the city to proceed with the public safety project right away — and without a tax increase or bond election.

And that was another thing council and staff heard, she said: to do something now with available resources. “The city and the employees are very excited to get moving on this project.”