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Public Safety tax clinches support
For the first time in the city’s history, the police department seems on its way to a new station and its own dedicated building.
In the Aug. 7 primary election, city residents voted for a public safety sales tax of one-tenth of 1 percent by a 60.17 percent to 39.83 percent margin (1,254 votes to 830 votes). Figures are as of Friday, Aug. 10.
Using the funds from the tax, the city plans to build a new police station and emergency operations center on the existing city hall site. City officials’ goal is to join the project with a new city hall as a combined 30,000 to 36,000-square-foot civic center.
“There’s a sense of excitement,” Police Chief Bill Dickinson said.
“Some of the officers have been here a long time and they’ve been hearing they are going to get a new police station for 20 years. Now they are more optimistic than ever.”
Dickinson said he and the other officers will breathe easier once the election results are certified on Aug. 21.
“I’m proud of the citizens for their support,” he said. “I can offer an assurance to our citizens we will make the best economic use of that revenue source.”
Mayor Ken Hays said the project is important for the long-term prosperity of the city.
“It’s been a critical issue for two decades and a priority for 15 years,” Hays said. “I was convinced this was the time even though it’s a rough economic time. There are so many positives about this.”
City Manager Steve Burkett said the city’s next steps begin with refining its financial plan.
He estimates the civic center, joint city hall and police station will cost $12-$14 million.
“The election was the lynchpin to all the rest of it,” Burkett said.
“Now, we have the revenues guaranteed to pay off a bond.”
Burkett said the city would use the approximate $240,000 earned from the annual tax to help pay off a low-interest, long-term bond.
“Our goal is to reduce the amount of money we borrow,” he said. “We want to build something we can afford and start with something around $700,000-$800,000 a year.”
When budgeting the project, staff would use the tax revenue and the money formerly allocated for rent (about $190,000) but also need to develop a plan for the remaining sum.
Hays said he sees residents in support of the city’s efforts for doing both projects to save money.
“The public funding for the police side was critical and now we have to find some additional revenue,” Hays said.
Burkett said once the project is budgeted, then the city will plan construction and have a competitive design/build bidding process for architects, builders and developers to keep costs from escalating.
“In these tough financial times, people are skeptical government is using their money effectively, but people trust us with their money and to build something that’s important for the city,” Burkett said.
To promote information about the tax, Burkett and Dickinson spoke to several service groups. The city also sent out an informational mailer to residents, as did Citizens for Sequim Public Safety.
Pat Johansen, organizer of the group, said when asked for a vote, people do a good job of turning out.
“It’s a great little town,” she said. “I think it’s a great atmosphere and the more we can do to keep it this the way the better.”
Any construction on a new site won’t begin until Serenity House, which sold its thrift store site for $1.25 million to the City of Sequim in February for the civic center project, vacates the buildings.
The thrift store and emergency shelter holds a lease for three years, but plans to move to its new location at Kite Girl Plaza in the near future.