Lincoln constituent informs aldermen of advisory referendum
Opinion on new safety complex to be sought

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[February 08, 2016]  LINCOLN - At last week’s meeting of the Lincoln City Council, Lincoln resident James Reynolds asked to address the council during the public participation session. He was there, to notify aldermen that he is working to have an “advisory referendum” placed on the election ballot this fall. Reynolds said the referendum question would give Lincoln residents the opportunity to express their approval or disapproval of the city spending millions of dollars on a new safety complex for the fire and police departments.

Reynolds told the council that he had collected 200 signatures on a petition to go to the Logan County Clerk to get the referendum on the ballot. According to Reynolds, he had expected the question to be on the ballot for the March primary. However, he said he was given incorrect information by the clerk’s office as to deadline dates for filing the petition. Because of this, he was not permitted to have the referendum placed on the ballot.

However, he told the council that he was not going to let the matter go, he would push forward with the same referendum this fall. Reynolds said that in talking to many Lincoln residents, there is a concern that the city would spend millions of dollars on such a complex that it can’t afford.

Reynolds also said he understood that there was a need for a larger space for the two departments. He said he was stunned to learn that the departments are currently operating in approximately one-fifth the space actually needed.

He wondered if there were any other alternatives to building a new complex. Could the city find space to rent? Had they considered that alternative?

He also wanted to know where the city was in their timeline for this plan. He noted that “last year” (the 2014 – ‘15 budget year) there had been $30,000 allotted and spent for a space needs study. He said this year (the 2015 - 16 budget year) there is $70,000 allotted for the next step in the process. He wondered if that money has been spent.

City Administrator Clay Johnson said that the $70,000 had not been spent. The project was put on hold after the space needs study.

Michelle Bauer addressed the question from Reynolds about renting space saying the city is already renting space for the police department. She said the study had been done to determine what were the feasible alternatives, and that after those conversations, the item was tabled and has been discussed no further.

Reynolds concluded saying that he was only there to advise the council of what he was doing. He said, in the end, it would be a win-win for everyone as it would allow taxpayers to express their opinion and it would give the council an understanding of what it is the public wants from them.

History of the topic

This topic dates back several years, beginning long ago with discussions about how the city fire department is being operated in one of the oldest stations in the state. The building that is in use now was originally built for horse-drawn fire equipment and is much too small to hold the fire trucks and engines that are being manufactured today. This becomes an issue for the city when considering purchases of equipment because smaller apparatus have to be special ordered and special ordered equipment costs more than something that is a standard size.

Issues also have arisen for the police department that rents space inside the Logan County Safety Complex. As recently as last month, Chief Paul Adams addressed this in the Lincoln 2020 Strategic Plan review, saying that officers were sharing space for multiple tasks including their reports, their meal breaks, and processing of evidence.

The city began looking at how to address the needs of the two departments in 2013 when Mayor Keith Snyder recommended the establishment of a utility tax for the city. In his presentation, he said that the city could issue a $10 million bond for the complex. The bond could be paid over a 30 year period, using proceeds from the utility tax.

In January of 2015, the council approved hiring FGM Architects of St. Louis to perform a space needs study and survey the city for possible locations for a complex. The first was instructed to do their study and review six locations. They were also asked to look at the project as one combined space for both departments, and also as individual buildings, one for each department.

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In July of 2015, FGM presented to the city council its findings. They offered up three scenarios; a combined facility, a fire department facility, and a police department facility. It also showed estimated costs of construction. For the fire department, the figure came in just under $7 million. For the police department, it came in at just under $6 million. For the combined facility the total cost was estimated at just under $12 million.

Since that July meeting, the Safety Complex issue has not come up in council all that often. As mentioned earlier, it was discussed in the city’s Strategic Plan review in January of 2016, but no actions have been taken.

There is money in the 2015-16 budget for hiring a firm to do a design plan for the combined complex or multiple facilities. The city has not made any moves to hire a firm to date.

On the city website's new “Rumors Page” the following statement appears regarding the complex:

“To be clear, the City has not moved forward with any type of architectural or engineering design. A design would begin to determine the true costs of a building including operations costs (utilities, etc.) which cannot be determined by a simple space needs and site location study. The City Council would, in an open meeting, discuss moving forward with design and contract with an architect for the design. Only then would the costs of a potential building(s) and the look and location of that structure truly be determined. From the beginning of this process, it was the intention of the Council to pay for the Public Safety Building through the revenues generated from the utility tax, and not through increased property or utility taxes.”

It should be noted that from time to time, there are federal grants made available for fire stations. The city has applied for such grants in the past, but no grants were ever awarded. Having a site plan and a design plan to submit with a grant application would increase the possibility of the city receiving grant funds should they become available in the future.


[Nila Smith]

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