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Troutdale OKs bond for new station

Chief concerned about future of cramped building
by: John Klicker, The Troutdale Police Department is housed in a former bank building in downtown. A public poll showed support from residents for a bond to pay for a new building to house the growing number of police officers.

TROUTDALE - In eight years as police chief, David Nelson has seen Troutdale's police department remodeled four times. Shuffling walls and offices created more administrative space. A second floor was added at one point.

These changes helped the department get by, but the growing police force - a 24th officer will be added this year - is increasingly feeling the crunch.

'We're trying to make the best use of it,' Nelson said. 'But it's not adequate, really, for the needs we have now and in the future.'

With poll results indicating support from residents, the City Council gave the green light for a bond measure to fund a new station. Council members did not vote on the measure at their Tuesday, Feb. 26, meeting, but a consensus emerged during the evening's work session to move forward. Tentatively set at $4 million, the bond measure will go to voters in the November election.

Troutdale contracted with Salem polling firm the Nelson Report to gauge interest in municipal issues relating to three capital improvement bond options. They included a 20-year, $4 million bond measure for a freestanding police station; a 20-year, $7.5 million bond for a combined police station and City Hall; and no bond measure.

The idea to first replace the police station came out on top. Forty-seven percent of respondents supported that option, with 39 percent opposing and 14 percent undecided. The results were nearly reversed regarding the combined police station-City Hall. Only 37 percent favored that concept compared to 47 percent opposed and 16 percent undecided.

When the poll moved to more specific questions about the bonds, favorable responses increased significantly. Sixty-six percent responded favorably to the question, 'If you knew the current police facility is too small to meet the needs of police operations, would you favor or oppose the $4 million bond measure?' with 25 percent opposed and 9 percent unsure.

There was a similar response - 65 percent favorable, 24 percent opposed - to a question about whether the police facility could be expanded to accommodate growing police and emergency operations needs. Respondents also showed bond support when details of the resulting property tax increases were spelled out. The measure would raise the tax rate an average 31 cents per thousand, or about $61 per year, for a home with an assessed value of $200,000.

In other areas, respondents named 'crime' and 'traffic control issues' as the city's most serious problems, while giving the city an overall tip of the hat. Eighty-two percent gave the city of Troutdale a positive performance rating (excellent: 20 percent; pretty good: 62 percent), while 14 percent judged the city as fair (11 percent) to poor (3 percent).

Nelson said he was satisfied with the poll outcome. The fact that the police department was deemed a more immediate need than City Hall didn't surprise him.

'I'm happy with the results,' he said. 'It indicates the public is supportive of what we're doing. There's a bigger need for a police department now, rather than both facilities. But it's always a challenge to ask people for money.'

Among the many cited shortcomings of the current 4,200 square-foot building, Nelson emphasized parking problems and interior space for locker and interviewing rooms. Patrol cars, as well as officers' personal vehicles, have been subject to vandalism in unsecured parking areas, he said. The locker room doubles as a gun-cleaning space, there is only one room for interviewing, disability access is limited and the station's lobby is the size of a walk-in closet.

'It's just extremely cramped,' he said of the former bank the city took over around 1995. 'It's difficult to run a 24-7 operation out of here.'

At approximately 12,500 square feet, the proposed station slated for a city-owned parcel at Southeast Second Street and Buxton Avenue, is designed to accommodate a 20-year window of personnel expansion, Nelson said.

The number of officers has increased from 17 in 1997 to 24proposed for this year. Recent additions, however, were primarily in specialty areas such as gang enforcement and school resource officers rather than street patrols.

The new building plans, Nelson said, are 'determined to meet our current needs along with the next 20 years,' based on population growth estimates.

Calling a new station an 'obvious need,' City Administrator John Anderson stressed the $4 million figure is merely a working estimate.

'The staff will work with architects and the finance department to firm up the estimates,' he said, adding that the City Council will need to take formal action on the ballot measure by late summer.

Mayor Paul Thalhofer said he was pleasantly surprised by the results of the Nelson Report polling.

'I thought it was a very thoughtful reaction to the question,' he said. 'They didn't want to go for a new City Hall, but were in favor of a police station. We need a strong police force.'

The current building has clearly outlived its usefulness, he said.

'That was a bank at one time. It's hard to retrofit a bank into a police headquarters,' he said. 'They've done the best they could do.'

He likes how the site plan incorporates city property.

'I think it's a good site,' he said. 'It makes it much easier to put a bond before the people for just a building, because we already own land.'

The site will also - when the time comes - accommodate a new City Hall adjacent to the proposed police station.

'That's what we envision,' Thalhofer said. 'People aren't wiling to take that step now, and I don't blame them.'