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City council approves asking voters to back $8.5 million police station

by: Vern Uyetake The West Linn City Council needs voter support for a bond measure to finance a new police station spanning four properties on 1.7 acres at Eighth Avenue and 13th Street in West Linn. Officials have negotiated to buy the properties — at 1819 and 1849 13th St. (pictured) and at 1800 Eighth Ave. and adjacent land — for a total of $1.45 million, which is about $10,000 less than their combined appraised values.

The West Linn City Council decided Monday to take another shot at asking voters to foot the bill for a new police station, advancing a bond measure to finance the building to the Nov. 8 election.

The council approved putting an $8.5 million bond measure on the ballot. The vote was 4-1, with councilor Teri Cummings casting the lone voice against the initiative. She said she didn't trust some of the documentation used to select the latest proposed site, which is in the Willamette neighborhood.

Other council members countered that they felt very confident in the choice before advancing the measure to the ballot.

The estimated cost to taxpayers: $46 annually for a $285,000 home over the next 20 years.

Project has history

It's not the first time the city has floated a bond proposal to pay for such a project. In May 2010, citizens shot down a $10.8 million measure to fund a new joint court and police facility on Parker Road.

This time around, the cost is estimated at $8.5 million, including property acquisition, and the proposed location is at Eighth Avenue and 13th Street in the Willamette neighborhood.

Although no one testified in opposition of the measure, some citizens have criticized efforts to fund a new police station, noting tough economic times and relatively low levels of local crime. Some also want the city to instead try to renovate an existing vacant building or to remodel the existing building, erected in 1936, and at one point containing city hall, a market and post office.

But city officials say rebuilding at the present site isn't feasible, pointing to the building's small size - the city only owns its footprint, while the nearby paper mill owns the park-ing lot and surrounding property - and likely high cost of attempting to renovate it to withstand an earthquake.

They also found problems with moving into vacant sites such as the old Kasch's property on Willamette Drive, deemed too small and a better opportunity for businesses, and the former Bales Marketplace in the Robinwood Shopping Center, also considered an economic development prospect and which would require a lease - and bond proceeds can't be used to pay for a lease.

A council divided?

Despite the divided vote, the council was unanimous Monday in declaring the existing police station unfit and in need of a new location. It also unanimously approved the replacement police station as its No. 1 goal early in the year.

'It's not acceptable to have our police housed in such an inadequate facility,' Cummings said, 'and there's not much hope of fixing that … because we don't own the land around it. … It's too bad we've had to see this put off for this long.'

However, she said, an early candidate site on Failing Street - less than half an acre deemed far too small for a new building with parking spaces around it - had a 'culverted stream' on the property that wasn't included in architects' earlier analysis of potential locations.

She said she believes streams were not mapped on some of the other unselected candidate sites, too.

'I'm not really sure I can rely on this information,' Cummings said. 'I'm not really sure this is going to be something the voters are going to approve. I wish it could be.'

But Cummings voted in favor of purchasing the Willamette-area properties for a new police station with the rest of the council in June.

After Monday's meeting, she said she supported the property acquisition before developing concerns about the site report, prepared by architects at the design firm Group Mackenzie.

Locals call for

council support

Resident Grant Oakes said he's among residents living on fixed incomes and believes building a new police station for 16 cents for every $1,000 in property value is a 'tremendous' deal.

'Labor and materials costs are at significantly lower rates than we've seen in several years,' he said. 'I believe this is a value we cannot afford to pass up. As a senior citizen living on a modest retirement income, I would rather lock those values in now than gamble on the chance they could be duplicated in future years.'

Bill Hill, who participated on a 16-member citizen committee helping to find the right police station site, said the November election is 'the cornerstone for the future of this community.'

'We expect it to be a basic facility with no frills,' he said. 'It's efficient, it's safe and it represents what this community is all about.'

State Rep. Julie Parrish of West Linn, at the council meeting to give a brief recap of the 2011 legislative session, said she and her husband, Mark, are 'excited' and 'strongly supportive as a family' about rebuilding the local police station.

'We're actively interested in that conversation,' Parrish said, noting she had to leave city hall before the bond measure discussion began because of a West Linn-Wilsonville School District meeting she wanted to attend at the same time.

Fire Chief Mike Duyck of Tualatin Valley Fire and Rescue District also urged the council to support the measure, noting his agency didn't have seismically safe stations in West Linn until voters approved a bond measure to replace the two buildings.

'The police department is in the same state,' Duyck said. 'We couldn't do what we do without the great partnership we have with WLPD. … We're going to need the West Linn PD there when the community needs us in the event of a disaster.'

He added that he supports the latest new-building proposal and all of the work leading to its development.

'It will allow them to grow well into the future and it will provide a great level of service to the community for many years to come,' Duyck said.

Council moves ahead

Any bond measure proposed by the city could face a battle with voters. Although in recent years residents approved bond measures to fund two new Tualatin Valley Fire and Rescue stations in West Linn and to pay for a new primary school now under construction in the Hidden Springs neighborhood, they haven't supported a city measure similar to the proposed police bond measure since the library expansion a decade ago.

Despite the odds, a majority of council members hope to win voter approval of the project this fall.

'We have a very outdated facility,' Mayor John Kovash said. 'We only own the (building's) footprint; we don't even have a parking space.'

Councilor Jody Carson noted officials and citizen advisers whittled down plans to a 'very conservative' concept.

'We're not going to get land any cheaper, and we're not going to be able to get financing any cheaper,' she said. 'This is really a prime time to build this facility.'

Councilor Mike Jones said voting against a new police facility would be 'irrational and foolhardy' and put the 'entire community in danger.'

'I don't think I'm exaggerating,' he said. 'The police aren't going to go away, and our community is one of the safest in the area and will continue to be one of the safest. But, at that moment when we need them most, if we don't have an adequate facility for police, then we're not going to have our police.'

Noting her mother and mother-in-law live with her family, councilor Jenni Tan said that, like many other community members, she wants to keep the city safe, whether for seniors or for children.

'Safety, along with schools and natural beauty, is what makes West Linn a great place to live,' she said.