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A closer look at DL's new police department plan

The current home of the Detroit Lakes Police Department, located on Holmes Street, has about a third of the 17,800 square feet of space needed for a department of its size, according to a facility assessment and space needs study commissioned by the City Council. (Vicki Gerdes / Tribune)1 / 2
This conceptual drawing from BKV Group architects gives an idea of what a new police department might look like – but it is a preliminary design only, according to architect Bruce Schwartzman. (Graphic by BKV Group)2 / 2

Last month, the Detroit Lakes City Council voted unanimously to call for a special election to determine whether it can use a half-cent local option sales tax to build a new $6.7 million police department building.

At this special election, which will be held as part of the Nov. 6 general elections, voters will be asked to check "yes" or "no" on the ballot beneath a question asking whether the city should be authorized to impose the temporary sales and use tax, for this specific purpose.

According to a sample ballot provided by City Administrator Kelcey Klemm, the question spells out the terms of the sales tax, which would be imposed "for a period of approximately 10 years, or until approximately $6,700,000, plus an amount equal to interest and the costs of issuing any bonds, is raised."

So does this mean city officials expect the tax to last for 10 years, or longer? Quite the opposite, says Alderman Ron Zeman.

"Based on information from the state revenue department, this tax is anticipated to generate about $900,000 (in revenue) a year," Zeman said — but those numbers are on the conservative side, he added.

"We think it (the cost of the new police department) could be paid off in less than 10 years," said Mayor Matt Brenk — and if it is, the sales tax would sunset at that time, he added, as according to the terms of the special election, it can't be used for any other purpose.

If voters approve the temporary tax, the Minnesota Legislature would then need to pass special legislation to impose it, as all sales tax is collected and distributed through the state's revenue department.

"We don't anticipate any problems with that," Brenk said. "If the voters say yes to a tax, then the legislators are usually supportive."

But even if it does pass, the earliest that construction of a new police department could begin would be in the spring of 2020. So why did the city choose this funding route?

"There are limited ways to fund this project," Brenk said. "Basically, it's (through a) sales tax, or property tax. We think it's more fair to use a sales tax, because one of the reasons we have the size of police department we do, and the number of calls that come in (for service), is because of the number of people that come here to visit from surrounding areas, or live just outside our city limits, and use our services."

With a sales tax, he explained, visitors and residents alike would be helping to fund the cost of a new police facility, rather than the entire burden of the cost falling on property owners within the city's limits.

Additionally, Klemm noted, a property tax-funded project would typically be paid off over a 20-year period, to ease the burden on taxpayers, while the proposed sales tax-funded project is anticipated to be paid off in 10 years or less.

"We can save about $2 million in interest that way," Brenk said, noting that this was a "key element" in the council's decision to call for the special election.

"The longer we wait, the greater the cost becomes," Zeman added, noting that the cost of construction rises about 5 percent annually.

If voters ultimately say no to the sales tax proposal, the city would still have the option of going through with the police department project anyway — via a property tax hike. Brenk says the city council has not definitely said that's what it would do, but does say it's a "high priority" for the city and a property tax increase would be the only other alternative if voters say "no" to the sales tax.

"We really think we need to do this sooner rather than later, so my gut feeling is that the council probably would, at some point, choose to move forward with another source of funding, which is probably property taxes if we can't get a referendum passed."

Why a new police department?

The Detroit Lakes Police Department's existing facility at 106 E. Holmes St. predates 1957, and was originally constructed to serve as City Hall. When the city's administrative offices were moved to their current location on Roosevelt Avenue in 1978, the police department took over the space.

At that time, the city's population was 6,900 people, and the police department employed 10 sworn officers. Today, the year-round population has grown to more than 9,400, and the number of officers has grown to 17, with administrative support for the department bringing the total staff roster to 19 — nearly twice what it was 50 years ago.

Between 2016 and 2017, the police department saw a 13 percent increase in calls for service, from 10,771 in 2016 to 12,163 in 2017. Based on year-to-date figures, approximately 304 more calls are projected to come in by the end of 2018 than the 2017 total. To handle the additional workload, the council approved the addition of another full-time officer to the police department's roster in 2019, which would bring the total staff up to 20.

In addition, the city's population is projected to grow to over 9,700 people by 2022.

Even with the addition of a squad car garage in 1990, and an office space remodel in 1999, the total available space in the department is right around 6,000 square feet — well short of the nearly 18,000 square feet of operational space that a 2016 needs assessment study determined the department would need going into the future.

"In February 2016, the city hired BKV Group to help determine what the (existing) deficiencies were, and put together a projected space requirement based on reasonable population growth," said Klemm, noting that the Minneapolis-based architectural and engineering firm specializes in police department studies and construction projects, having more than 80 of them on their resumé.

BKV Group consultants started by examining the existing conditions and operational issues of the police department. In addition to the above-mentioned staffing constraints, the study showed that the current facility is lacking adequate security, evidence processing and technology capabilities for the operation of a modern police facility.

Some of the issues outlined in the study were:

• The layout and design of the current police station inadequately provides for a secure work environment that is restricted from public areas.

• The current facility is lacking safety and security systems recommended for police operations, such as card-only access to certain areas of the building, and video surveillance both inside and outside the building.

• The current police station is drastically undersized based on the department's operational requirements — by as much as 12,000 square feet, based on other, similar-sized departments and national trends identified through the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) planning guide. This space deficiency includes a lack of adequate indoor squad vehicle parking, evidence storage and processing, and appropriate staff workspace as well as separate areas for interviews and ongoing investigations where privacy is needed.

This summer, Police Chief Steven Todd also outlined some other deficiencies related to the building's age.

"We got the roof replaced last summer, so it doesn't leak anymore, but the building exterior has some cracked masonry, indicating potential moisture and mold infiltration," he said.

Location, location, location

Once the need for a larger, more modern facility was identified, city officials began looking at where it could be located. Because the current location does not have adequate surrounding space to expand to meet the police department's space needs, 16 other potential sites were identified.

Working closely with the consultants from BKV, an ad hoc committee comprised of city staff and council members spent several months examining the potential sites and their possibilities.

Some of the primary considerations were:

• Strong police visibility and identity within the central business district/downtown area;

• Central location, with good access to Highway 10;

• Proximity to the courthouse, sheriff's department and city attorney's offices, for convenient access;

• Good access and proximity to the core locations of the department's calls for service;

• Adequate parking;

• Supports the city's Business Corridor Redevelopment Plan.

Klemm, Brenk and Zeman all noted that the city looked closely at the possibilities for locating inside the county courthouse, in the space being vacated due to construction of a new county jail facility on the north edge of town.

"That's probably the site we spent the most time looking at," said Brenk, but added that, contrary to some past reports of the sheriff's department and dispatch center relocating to the new jail site, they would be remaining in the courthouse — and the space occupied by the jail itself fell far short of what the police department's needs were.

"And there would be no squad (car) garage space there," Zeman said.

"Plus, we would be tenants of the county," Brenk said. "We wouldn't own the space."

After extensive study, it was decided that a city-owned lot located directly across the street from the Detroit Lakes Community & Cultural Center would be the best location for the new facility.

"This site checks all the boxes," said Klemm. "It fits all the prerequisites we were looking at... and the city owns the property, including the house on it."

"Aside from the house, which would need to be demolished, it's basically shovel ready," said Zeman, which means construction could begin as soon as the bid contracts were awarded.

"And we would be able to create about 40 new public parking spaces," Klemm added — conveniently located for use by people going to the above-mentioned DLCCC, Historic Holmes Theatre, Becker County Museum, Chamber of Commerce, Becker County Human Services and more.

Vicki Gerdes

Staff writer at Detroit Lakes Newspapers for the past 17 years, currently editor of the entertainment and community pages as well as covering city council and the Lake Park-Audubon School Board. Living in DL with my cat, Smokey.

(218) 844-1454
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