Weatherford City Council discussed plans to build new police and fire stations during a work session on Tuesday evening at city hall.
The council committed to proceed with a funding plan for the projects. The plan includes using money from reserves, capital fund and a 1-cent tax rate increase compared to a budgeted rate of $0.4779.
Action was not necessarily made by council, but they did commit to a funding plan, Mayor Paul Paschall said.
“This is a firm commitment that we’re making council move forward for this budget period and these two capital projects that we’ve talked about tonight,” Paschall said.
According to a presentation by Assistant City Manager Brad Burnett, the new public safety building would be 32,000 square feet, cost no more than $14.5 million and have a life span of 30 years. Construction is expected to start in 2021.
The fire station would be about 10,000 square feet, cost no more than $4.5 million and have a life span of 30 years, according to the presentation. The building would need to withstand severe weather and would include sleeping quarters, commercial kitchen, fire marshals’ office, emergency back-up power and specialized equipment like an exhaust capture system and washing machine for bunker gear. Construction is planned to start in 2021 or 2022 after the property selection and design is complete.
Weatherford Police Chief Lance Arnold and Fire Chief Paul Rust gave presentations at the work session about why they need new buildings.
Arnold described the space issues at WPD’s current public safety building on Santa Fe Drive, including issues that people may come across when coming to the police station. He said there is a need for more parking space as the building is used for community meetings, a bigger conference room, room for training, an inside K-9 kennel and storage space. He also said police employees often share offices, and more private spaces are needed for officers to work on sensitive cases.
“It is not uncommon to see officers processing evidence, from drugs to everything else, right next to someone who might be eating their dinner, working on a report at a computer station,” Arnold said. “Again, that limited space is causing us some issues.”
Rust said the fire station is having similar issues as the police station related to design and function of the building. He mentioned that a study is in progress currently to use data to determine the best location for a fire station. He also said there is a need for unisex bathroom areas, more privacy in living quarters and a better ventilation system to handle exhaust. Rust talked about the need to keep air with carcinogens out of spaces where firefighters live.
“What we’re finding is everything that we use is releasing those carcinogens, it’s in the smoke, everything that burns today is synthetic and all smoke has carcinogens, is loaded with carcinogens,” Rust said. “That’s why we’re finding out that so many firefighters are coming down with cancer.”
Completing both projects is expected to cost no more than $19 million, Burnett said. The city needs $7.2 million to fund debt service until fiscal year 2027, at which time debt service capacity increases. New debt will be funded through reserves and other revenue sources until then.
“The proposed options do not compromise short- or long-term financial strategies,” Burnett said.
Burnett then presented three funding options to council and asked for their direction. Council decided they were most comfortable with option three, which pulls $2.5 million from general fund cash reserves and a capital fund transfer of $3.5 million, or $500,000 yearly for seven years. Option three also includes a 1-cent tax rate increase, which amounts to $250,000 for seven years or $1.75 million in total.
A 1-cent increase would amount to an annual tax bill increase of $10, while a 2-cent increase would be a $20 increase, according to Burnett’s presentation.
Council also considered option two, which includes pulling $4 million from general fund cash reserves, capital fund transfer of $1.75 million and a 1-cent tax rate increase.
The council eliminated option one first. That plan included using $4 million from general fund cash reserves and a 2-cent tax rate increase to total to $3.5 million over seven years.
All options include $7.5 million for debt service and an extra $300,000 in case of interest rate fluctuations, according to the presentation.
Council is expected to vote on a proposed tax rate on Aug. 13. Tax rate hearings take place on Aug. 27 and Sept. 10. The budget and tax rate are scheduled to be adopted on Sept. 24.