McCOOK, Nebraska -- More than two dozen McCook citizens were present, and support for the proposed municipal facility was prevalent, during the town hall meeting hosted by the McCook City Council Thursday evening at the Heritage Senior Center.
Council and city administration members were available to field questions regarding the construction project voters will consider in the November election.
Duane Tappe asked council and city administration about the drive-up for paying your water bill on the proposed facility plans. Fritsch explained it would not be staffed but would provide an additional convenience to citizens. "I keep hearing the word accessibility -- I love to hear that as I get older," said Tappe who went on to say he would vote for the project even if it raised taxes. "I have toured the existing buildings and feel the need is that great. We need it bad," said Tappe.
Mark Eiler expressed his support for the project as well, citing the lack of handicap accessibility and public restrooms at the current police, fire and city offices. "I am getting old too, these issues matter to me," said Eiler.
Terri Shipshock asked board members what their plans were for the existing buildings if the new facility was approved. Fritsch explained that Memorial Auditorium would always be available for public use and the space freed up, by city administration departing, could be rented out. Fritsch said city staff had approached several groups and there was interest, but nothing set in stone.
"The county could take over the Public Safety Center and make a full time jail out of it, AmFirst may want the space for additional parking, the space does have value," said Fritsch, who added that in most any scenario he believed a good portion of the Public Safety Center would need to be torn down.
Luke Schwartz asked about jail cells in the new facility, "If the county doesn't have a facility, where will they go?" Fritsch explained the county was already transporting prisoners to jail facilities in other counties after 96 hours, the maximum holding time at the Public Safety Center. "They could bring that revenue back into the county by starting a full time facility here," said Fritsch, who explained he wasn't attempting to sound like he knew what was best for the county, only stating that it was an option.
"I am very much in support of this project," said Schwartz, "but why not accommodate jail cells in the [proposed] facility?"
Police Chief Isaac Brown explained that jail functions were the county's responsibility by law. "We filled in the gap on a temporary basis that has turned into a long term deal. Right now, the current facility is grandfathered, in regard to jail requirements, a new facility would require us to meet separation of duties regulations. Which, quite frankly, needs to be done for safety and efficiency reasons."
Fritsch added that the county was approached, with the city willing to look at building additional vertical stories on the proposed facility to accommodate the county, "They did not want to participate if they had to put cost into it," said Fritsch.
Police Sgt. Owen McPhillips said he had been in McCook since 1993 and it was his understanding the Public Safety Center was renovated in 1985 as a temporary facility for the Police and Fire departments, with a new building to be built within two years. Fire Chief Isaac Brown confirmed that to be true and went on to explain the building was a warehouse for a public power company before the city purchased it.
City Manager Kurt Fritsch added that the city has never before constructed a new facility, "We have always cobbled together and always had problems because of it."
McPhillips went on to explain that most citizens didn't realize the majority of the police work happened in one room at the current facility. "The heating unit is so old it is built into the wall," said McPhillips.
"During extreme weather you have the choice between a comfortable room temperature and being able to hear each other speak," said McPhillips.
Fritsch told members of the public that there was no better time than the present to build the new facility. Citing a growing trend in sales tax receipts, exceptionally low interest rates and construction bids coming in lower than expected on recent bids. "We have been saying now is not the time for 25 years," said Fritsch, who also explained that the proposal would take care of infrastructure needs for the next 50 years.
"Taxes will not go up if you vote for this project, nor will they decrease if you don't. It is a tax neutral project," said Fritsch.
The city has been setting aside $500,000 per year since 2008 for municipal facilities improvements, resulting in $1.5 million that could be put toward the facility, in combination with a seven year bond on sales tax of $3.75 million.
If the facility is not approved by voters in November, the $1.5 million would be allocated as originally budgeted, toward improvements and renovations of the existing Public Safety Center on West B Street -- Improvements that would most likely only provide a band-aid for the most pressing logistics problems that the facility presents, with a growing list of others likely to develop in the future.
The City Council will host its third and final town hall meeting in regard to the proposed Municipal Facility on Oct. 25.