Our View: Pause project, don’t pull plug | SteamboatToday.com

Our View: Pause project, don’t pull plug

At issue

Routt County commissioners are reconsidering their commitment to pursuing a shared law enforcement facility with the city of Steamboat Springs

Our view

Commissioners and city council members should engage in more discussion before pulling out of the project

— Routt County commissioners have called a “time-out” on plans to build a shared law enforcement facility with the city of Steamboat Springs, and we hope that pause is not permanent.

The city has been discussing a new police station for three years and it finally came up with a plan that makes sense. Thanks to input from an independent residents committee, whose well-respected members met for months before recommending construction of a shared facility with the county as the city’s best option.

The council accepted the committee’s recommendation Aug. 4, and the county indicated its interest in the proposed project by conducting a space needs analysis for its emergency services that same month. In October, the county took what commissioners described as a “leap of faith” and contracted with an architectural firm to produce a conceptual plan for the shared law enforcement facility, then in mid-November, the idea of a temporary countywide sales tax to fund the facility was raised but never thoroughly vetted.

In our opinion, the county has pulled the plug on the project too quickly. We would urge more discussion between the two government bodies before shutting down the idea. We realize, at this point, the county’s and city’s timelines for the project are not the same and the county does not have reserves earmarked for the project as the city does. But we think those are issues that could be resolved with more planning and discussion.

Building a larger facility that could be shared by the Routt County Sheriff’s Office and the Steamboat Springs Police Department is a long-term solution for a problem facing both agencies. At this juncture, we think it’s premature to end the discussions before all funding and cost-sharing options have been completely explored.

Instead of pulling the plug on the project, we encourage city and county leaders to use this time-out as an opportunity to reassess the time frame for the project and more thoroughly research options for funding construction of the facility. We agree with county commissioners that getting voters to approve a countywide sales tax to support construction of a shared law enforcement facility would be a hard sell in November. We don’t think the discussion has gone far enough to determine if that’s the best and only solution for funding the project.

The city has $8 million earmarked for a new police station in its 2016 capital improvement budget but that doesn’t mean the facility has to built next year. City leaders tasked a residents committee to evaluate all options for a new police station. That group did what it was asked to do. We’d like to see the city honor that effort by not acting too quickly in response to the county’s decision to reevaluate its involvement in the project.

Council President Walter Magill indicated he is leaning toward moving on from the idea of a shared facility. We would caution the council to refrain from acting too hastily. Rather than opting for the committee’s “Plan B” recommendation, which involves purchasing property on U.S. Highway 40, we think city council should take a step back and use this time-out as an opportunity to re-evaluate its rush to build a new facility.

A work session involving city and county leaders to discuss the project’s future is a necessary next step, and we think that meeting needs to occur sooner rather than later. Another open discussion about the options for a shared facility is warranted, especially with four new members serving on city council.

As editorialized in May, a shared facility between the Steamboat Police Department and the Routt County Sheriff’s Office makes the most sense in the long run, and we think it’s way too early for the city and the county to give up on the project. Getting two government groups to cooperate toward a common goal isn’t easy, but it’s worth the effort. Especially, if the end result is a collaboratively-designed facility that saves taxpayer dollars and promotes interaction among local law enforcement agencies.

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