Police station at top of SPLOST wish list

chwright@macon.comJanuary 9, 2012 

CENTERVILLE -- After detailing the electrical, security and air vent system flaws of the outdated Centerville police station for an hour, City Administrator Patrick Eidson leaned in and laid it out straight.

“It’s falling apart,” he said. “I just don’t know no other way to put it.”

A new $3 million police department building is the most costly item Centerville listed to receive funds from a proposed Houston County special purpose local option sales tax residents will vote on March 6.

Houston officials have said the six-year renewal of the SPLOST, which has been continuous since 2001, would generate about $155 million for projects throughout Warner Robins, Perry, Centerville and the unincorporated areas of the county.

Centerville would be allotted 3.3 percent of that, or about $5.1 million. If passed, the county sales tax would remain at 7 percent.

‘Barely getting by’

Mayor John Harley and Eidson said a new law enforcement center has been discussed since the 2006 SPLOST, and now is the right time to move forward with the needed structure.

The current police station is located on North Houston Lake Boulevard in a 53-year-old building, opened when the city incorporated and required only one officer, Eidson said. The building originally housed the police department, the fire department, the water department and City Hall. A library was later added on.

Those departments have since moved to new and improved facilities. The police department remains -- now with 18 officers.

Over the years, two additions were added to the original house-like structure. With those additions came new -- and separate -- air ventilation and electrical systems, officials said. The attic is a cobweb of those wires and ducts, and labels tell the employees which switch controls which room’s temperature.

“We’re barely getting by with the facility we have,” said Chief Sidney Andrews, adding that the city has spent about $50,000 in the last two years to keep the building functioning.

The internal layout of the building has become puzzling and inefficient with the new additions, Eidson and Harley said.

“It’s a maze and what you would consider wasted space, but that’s because of how the maze is, you really can’t use the space,” Eidson said.

Security cameras have been installed to watch the two holding cells, which are black metal cages bolted to the ground with little more than six inches separating them from the ceiling. One cell sits beneath a tiled ceiling that some inmates have tried to climb into, Andrews said.

New evidence is stored in six standard locker cabinets secured with Master locks. Old evidence is stored in a fenced-off area of the garage. Suspects are taken in under three carports instead of a secured sallyport, usually a small garage-like area officers drive into to separate the suspect from the public before exiting the car.

Andrews said the inefficient space and security concerns created by the additions prevent the department from flourishing in the community and the state.

He said he would like to begin a citizens police academy, for which the curriculum is almost completed, but won’t do so until a new building is constructed. In the current building, the training room where the students would gather is adjacent to the interview room where suspects are questioned.

“It’s not secure,” the chief said on a tour of the facility last week. “I wouldn’t feel safe bringing citizens in here.”

He said the current facility also is preventing the department from receiving state accreditation, which would lower insurance premiums and set the city up for grants.

The current building could also become a financial burden, Andrews said. He said the city’s insurance company heavily questioned renewing the policy this year, insisting on caution signs to alert patrons of high or low steps.

Facility stalled without SPLOST

City Council approved a measure this year to allow McLees, Boggs & Selby Architects, a Macon-based firm, to inspect two city-owned properties -- land behind the old library on Church Street and the current police department -- for viability. The work was done at no cost under the condition the firm would lead the project, Eidson said.

Andrews and Eidson said they envision a modern two-story building that is about the same size as the current building -- which is almost 3,000 square feet -- but with more efficient spaces.

They said they also want the building to be as up-to-date in technology as possible, have secure holding cells, a secure evidence room and a single ventilation system.

“We just want the small things at this point,” Eidson said.

The officials said plans for the new facility have halted until the March referendum vote. If it doesn’t pass, the city won’t have the funding, they said.

“Council wants to wait and see what the voters have to say before plans continue,” Eidson said.

County officials have repeatedly sold the SPLOST as a way to keep property taxes down because to raise the same amount of money through property taxes would require a large millage rate increase.

“I wouldn’t feel comfortable recommending that (a millage increase) to council,” Eidson said.

Also in the SPLOST, the city has earmarked $706,500 for road resurfacing, which Eidson said will be done on roads not covered through a state grant. About $1.3 million is planned for water and sewer improvements and debt retirement. Of that, $637,000 in the proposed project list would pay off costs from a water and sewer extension to the Century Oaks area in the southeast part of town, Eidson said. The remaining $706,500 water and sewer funds will be used to extend service to Benjamin Road.

“That will pretty much just about get everybody (water services),” he said, noting some areas cannot be serviced because of topographical problems.

Eidson and Harley pointed to $475,000 to retire transportation-related debt -- listed in the 2006 SPLOST -- and the current City Hall building -- listed in the 2001 SPLOST -- as examples of the penny sales tax at work.

“It takes the burden off of the (property) taxpayer on things that would take other taxes to do,” Harley said. “This is certainly the way to do it.”

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