Mayor Bunting: ‘We can no longer look at the short term’
by Dawn Feddersen-Poindexter
The Rogers City Council gave preliminary approval for $3,465,000 in general obligation bonds to fund a new police station and other equipment and safety needs.
The council also adopted the 2014 budget and tax levy, but not before hearing from a number of residents who wanted to ensure that no opportunity for savings was left unexplored.
For months, City staff has been exploring ways to replace their dilapidated police station.
Earlier this year, they looked at a number of options, including building a new police station and adding the necessary space onto the fire station to create a public safety building. The various options ranged from $5 million to $9 million.
Recently, an old industrial building came on the market that seemed to be just what they were looking for.
“We were lucky enough to find a building that we can do this for a fraction of the cost,” said Mayor Jay Bunting.
The City paid $920,000 Nov. 22 for the building located at 21816 Industrial Court, near Main Street and Interstate 94. They estimate that another $2,334,000 is needed to finance the design, construction, and outfitting of the new police station.
Resident Gregg Peppin and other residents questioned the necessity of the new facility, as well as how quickly the project came to a vote.
“We didn’t realize that a building that fits our needs so well at such a low price would come through,” Bunting explained. He also pointed out that the process has been discussed at a number of meetings that were available to the public.
Bunting and Rogers Police Chief Jeff Beahen described a multitude of problems with the current building.
They described the current police station as four different buildings that have been lumped together. The oldest building is so infested with mold that it’s unusable. Floors are crumbling. Expensive electronic equipment is being housed in a basement that regularly fills with water. Evidence, including valuables, is being stored in a garage protected by nothing but flimsy fiberglass doors. The building is so old it’s incapable of being equipped with an alarm system. And the City currently spends $30,000 and countless man hours booking inmates into the Hennepin County Jail because they have no holding cells of their own.
Beahen said he was hesitant to make these things known to the public but he wanted everyone to know how necessary a new facility is.
He recalled his years with the Elk River Police Department. During the course of 27 years, that department built seven different buildings to keep up with the growth. The total cost of the seven buildings was $43 million.
The new Rogers building is expected to meet the department’s needs for 25 to 30 years, the chief said. It is designed to hold a maximum of 42 officers. The Rogers Police Department currently employs 16 officers.
“The Council has taken the stance that we can no longer look at the short term,” Bunting said.
The building purchase was made with existing money in the City’s general fund. The remaining costs will be financed by bonds. The City anticipates that the $144,000 it will owe each year in bond repayments for the police station will be covered by the current annual Capital Improvement Project levy and the Local Government Aid that recently begun being allocated annually to Rogers by the State of Minnesota. There is no increase to the general or special levy anticipated as a result.
Ground breaking for the project will occur in January with completion expected next summer.
2014 Tax Levy
The Council also approved a final 2014 property tax levy of $6,250,035.
This figure reflects a $65,270 reduction from the levy proposed in September. The largest portion of the reduction is attributable to the General Fund sales and use tax reduction of $34,813 as a result of the 2013 Legislative decision to exempt cities from sales and use tax on purchases used to provide certain government services. City Council and staff decided to forward the savings it received to its residents.
The levy brings Rogers’ 2014 property tax rate to 40.54%.
“It’s the lowest tax rate of any of the cities you look at here,” said City Administrator Steve Stahmer, referring to a lengthy list of cities that surround Rogers.
Gregg Peppin, a Rogers resident and the husband of Minnesota Rep. Joyce Peppin, expressed his concern over the plan to allocate $614,600 of the levy to a sinking fund, which the City sets aside to pay for future projects.
“Why is it the City’s philosophy to tax people now and put it in a savings account to pay people later? Why not think about bonding those other areas?” Peppin asked.
He added that it was only fair that some costs be spread out over future generations.
Stahmer explained that the City Council and staff had decided that it was better to save for some purchases, rather than borrow the money to pay them off later. He said that there were a number of necessary public works and information technology equipment purchases, for example, coming up in the next few years that they would prefer to pay for up front, rather than have to borrow money for.
“When you’re borrowing dollars, it’s going to be the most expensive way to pay,” Stahmer said.