Scott Wedel: City’s path is flawed
The most recent City Council meeting was an attempt to push toward finalizing the location of a police station that instead put the selection process into turmoil and significantly damaged the reputation of the city manager.
Maybe this will become the fiasco that finally convinces the entire City Council to re-evaluate the deeply flawed path they have been following. The need for new police and fire stations was introduced by city staff informing the public that the city was seeking to sell the existing public services building and had a buyer with an agreed upon price. The next decision was that they would pay for it from reserves to prevent the need for a public vote to approve bonds.
The process remains backwards.
We recently learned the latest plans reduced the size of the new station by 20 percent. Has the city decided that the police department of the future suddenly needs 20 percent less space? Did the initial design waste 20 percent of the space in needless luxuries? This reflects that we still have not undertaken the process to determine how much space is needed for what purpose for immediate and future needs.
The information presented by city staff to the public in the City Council meeting has pages showing pictures of successful redevelopment projects such as Denver’s Union Station. That serves as a reminder that the original goal was to move police and fire from Yampa Street based upon an undocumented theory that it would boost redevelopment efforts.
Yet, the current plan is for the police department to move long before the fire department. The public services building becoming half vacant for years would mean a few dozen fewer local workers on Yampa Street seeking lunches or shopping locally.
The goal of pushing through the project to prevent a public vote has also failed. Even if a public vote is not needed to approve bonds then it will certainly be a campaign issue for the November City Council elections if these issues are not solved to the public’s satisfaction.
It may waste some money to stop the project after the election, but it will not be too far along to be stopped. The City Council that approved the Iron Horse was swept from office as were their plans to spend millions remodeling it.
This City Council needs to introduce itself to the starting point. It needs to educate and seek public comment to evaluate the shortcomings of the current public services building as police and fire stations. If a new station is needed, then we also will learn how much space is needed and to what extent the location matters. If an objective is Yampa Street redevelopment, then we also need to determine the correct size and location for a new fire station.
With that agreed upon foundation then we can advance to picking sites and estimating overall project costs.
If the police and fire stations can be constructed without bonds, and that is the financially wise choice, then the public probably would agree. Though, we should not allow the amount of money the city has in reserves prevent designing stations expected to work for years to come.
It would be much more expensive to then, in a few years, pay for an extensive addition and remodel to have what was always needed. Thus, deciding whether to issue bonds or if city reserves are sufficient should be among the last of the decisions before giving the final approval to start construction.
Only then, when all of the above issues are settled and construction is proceeding smoothly, should the city entertain offers to sell the public services building and parking lot.
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Jay Hirschfeld and his business partner chef Jessi Watson are hoping the Yampa Valley Ice Cream Co. can add some new flavor to downtown Steamboat Springs with a new craft ice cream retail location.