Resident Mary Elizabeth Freeman called the commission "a tax-and-spend official body" and requested that a new police headquarters be constructed at the rear of the former Save-a-Lot parking lot.
"It appears you are pricing the public right out of this town," Freeman said, suggesting taxes will be raised to pay for the project.
Bill Carter and Allen Knight, both retired law enforcement officials, spoke in favor of building a new stand-alone police facility, suggesting that police need a separate building for security reasons.
"I'm sure the police department would be much happier in a stand-alone building," said Carter, a former U.S. Border Patrol official who moved to town last year.
Police Chief Jay Newell, ever the diplomat, said the police department would be happy with whatever plan got approval, just as long as it was soon.
"The police department is going to appreciate whatever we get. Either way, we'll have a fine facility that will meet our needs," Newell said. "I'd like to see it sooner rather than later, because I can retire in eight years."
That line brought laughter. The plan has been in the making since 2002, studied, talked about, shelved, reconsidered, but never approved. Until last night.
Years on the drawing board
Resident Jack Hendricks urged the commission to finally green light the plan.
"The biggest problem I see is this community has been working on this project for years. The logical move is exactly what these architects have come up with," Hendricks said. "Our police department has been cramped so many years it's pathetic. Get off the dime, make the move and get the job done that we all know needs to be done."
Crowley answered Freeman's tax-and-spend charge by explaining that the commission had responsibly budgeted $200,000 this year to cover debt service on a $2-million bond issue to get the project started. A similar plan will be adopted in coming budgets, as phases of the project are completed, he said.
Though he ultimately voted for the project, Coomer again stated his preference for building a new police station echoing the opinions presented by Freeman, Carter, Knight and others.
Former police chief Jeff Peek, who was heavily involved in planning for a new police facility until he retired in March, pointed out that the cost of building a new 16,000-square-foot police-only structure is an estimated $2.9 million, slightly more than the $2.8 million needed to build 6,000 square feet of new city offices and renovate city hall into a police headquarters.
Crowley added that building a police-only facility, plus renovating city hall and the current police/fire building across Main Street, would cost $1.5 million more than plan approved Thursday.
"We're not going to spend $1.5 million just to avoid calling this new space a city hall, which is the real reason" Coomer and Louis aligned against the project, Crowley said in reference to the notion that the two newly elected commission members owed a large part of their victories to voters who opposed spending money on a new city hall.
"We've talked this thing to death," Crowley said. "Unless someone has a $1.5-million reason not to go forward, let's go forward."