McCOOK, Nebraska -- The McCook City Council narrowly decided to stay with the idea of seeking federal funds to help pay for the demolition of the West Ward School building, at Monday evening's town hall meeting at Heritage Senior Center.
The vote was split 3-2, with council members Aaron Kircher and Lonnie Anderson against the use of grant funds, citing concerns that the use of the funds required an additional $20,000 historical survey be completed. The survey expense would be non-refundable and could simply add the to overall expense of the demolition if grant funding, which is not guaranteed, was not awarded.
Council members and city staff also presented plans for the proposed municipal facility that voters will consider in the November election. Several citizens spoke to the council regarding the project.
"I applaud the city and employees for their input, time and everyone active in trying to present this, said Kathleen Bills of McCook. "I have a personal conflict with it. I would like to see something outside of town."
She expressed concerns about neighborhoods being disturbed and the impact on taxpayers on the street. She also went on to say she was uncertain having all three entities in one location was the best idea, concerned that a child abuser would be brought to an environment where someone is paying their water bill.
Fire Chief Marc Harpham responded to Bills by explaining the current response time of the emergency services would be negatively impacted by a facility located outside of town. Explaining that the McCook response time had recently received a level four of 10 rating, improved from a six rating, Harpham said this rating improvement could have a positive impact by lessening insurance requirements on homeowners.
The chief also noted that the rating was not finalized yet and one of the factors it included was having all emergency equipment under one roof, a task that can only be accomplished in the proposed municipal facility.
Police Chief Isaac Brown added to the explanation by saying one of the benefits of this design was the vastly improved ability of the police department to have separate and even private entrances to bring victims and offenders into the facility from.
Wayne Michaelis inquired as to whether the monthly expense of operating the facility had been estimated, and compared to the current facility, and was concerned about potential revenue losses involved with the jail and dispatch. Brown explained that there can be only one 911 dispatch center for the county and the cost to the county to establish a second dispatch center would far outweigh any benefit.
"The jail costs us more to operate than any revenue we get for it," said Brown.
Council member Mike Gonzales said he had experience with a similar scenario regarding the monthly utility expense comparisons.
"We went through a similar process with the school district, We had three facilities with old furnaces, etc." Gonzales went on to explain that is difficult to put numbers to, but with the new facility having more energy efficient walls and a newer furnace, you should at least be comfortable with seeing monthly expenses no worse than current.
Several other citizens expressed their desire to prevent the demolition of West Ward. Gene Morris asked council to consider holding off on the demolition project until after the November Municipal Facilities vote.
Dale Cotton cited the previous denial of federal funds by the Nebraska Historical Society for the demolition project, prompting Mayor Dennis Berry to explain that the denial was prior to the historical society visiting the site and reviewing the engineer plans. "Since then they have been out and agreed it was not worth renovating that building," said Berry.
The City Council will seek voter approval in November to build the Municipal Facility to house Fire, Police and City administration. The second of three town hall meetings will be hosted by City council Oct. 14, 7 p.m., at the Heritage Senior Center.