Tooele City Hall’s commitment to build a new public safety facility for the police department took another step forward last week.
The Tooele City Planning Commission on Wednesday approved a conditional-use permit request from City Hall for approximately 2.3 acres at 70 N. Garden St. The property has been identified as the site for the new public safety building.
The land, which is located directly east of City Hall and Transcript Bulletin Publishing, is zoned general commercial and is owned by the city. Civic buildings are allowed in the zone as a conditional use. The site also extends to 100 East.
“This is an application I’m very pleased to bring to you this evening,” said Jim Bolser, the city’s community development director, when he presented the CUP request to the planning commission.
Bolser said the request was just one element of the overall planning process and not approval of any other elements of the project.
“We’re not talking about the site plan or the development itself,” he said. “The intent of this project is to facilitate a new police station that has been a long time coming. We’ve been proud of the work the police have been doing for a long time.”
He said multiple properties within the 2.3 acres had been acquired by Tooele City over time.
Mayor Debbie Winn said the intent for purchasing the land has been to build a new police station. She said the city would like to begin construction next spring.
Planning commission members Shauna Bevan and Phil Montano said they were excited about a new police station, but wish it were planned for an area on Main Street where it could be showcased to the public.
“I wish when you came into town people could see a nice, beautiful, new building,” Montano said.
But in an email to the Transcript Bulletin after the planning commission meeting, Winn said, “We also wish that it could be built on Main Street, but we would have to purchase additional property and it would not be viable at this point. Cost needs to be kept at a minimum. We will have signage out front of City Hall directing people to the police station.”
Commission members Melanie Hamner and Tony Graf said they were happy the police station was moving forward.
“It’s long overdue,” Graf said.
Winn explained during an Aug. 15 city council work meeting that Big D Construction will work with JRCA Architects, the same firm that built the Grantsville City Justice Center. Both will do some pre-construction planning. The city will pay Big D $8,500 for the preliminary work, according to the mayor.
About $458,000 of an additional $3 million raised this year from an increase in property tax revenue would go toward financing the building, according to numbers from the Tooele City Finance Department.
In June, Tooele Police Chief Ron Kirby estimated the construction cost at $6.7 million. He said conceptual plans called for a 23,200-square-foot building with a 3,192-square-foot ancillary building.
The mayor and city council hosted a town hall meeting on Feb. 28 during which the need for a new police station was a major theme. At that meeting, planning commission member Shauna Bevan said she took some Cub Scouts on a tour of the current police building.
“I’m so glad you are going to do something about that pathetic police station,” Bevan said during the town hall meeting. “That really needs to be at the top of the agenda.”
At that same meeting, Winn said there is a 56-percent turnover rate for police officers at the police department because of higher pay available elsewhere.
In June, Kirby said the community needs a new public safety building so the police department can be more efficient and serve the public better.
“That’s really what this is all about,” he said, “providing that service to the public, not about providing a building for the officers.”
The police chief presented his budget request at a city council business meeting back on March 7. He said the 30-year-old police station building at 323 N. Main Street needed to be replaced.
“She has done a wonderful job with 30 years of service,” Kirby said. “Prior to that, she served for 20 years as Bradshaw Auto Parts.”
The police chief spent several minutes showing slides of the dilapidated police station. He said he has often been asked by people how many officers he would like to have.
“There is not an easy answer,” Kirby said. “We currently have 1.02 officers per 1,000 residents, or field three to four officers at any given time. The short answer is we need more officers. We are an extremely busy police department, as busy as any department I know of.”
However, he said there are limiting factors to hiring more police officers because of lack of space.
“We really don’t have any office space or parking,” Kirby said. “If I immediately had six more officers, there would be no place to put them.”
The chief said the department is attempting to be competitive with police pay and benefits to reduce turnover.
“We can’t lose that fight, because if we get behind, it becomes a limiting factor,” Kirby said.
The approved CUP comes just one week after the Tooele City Council held a Truth-in-Taxation hearing on a proposed 115-percent tax increase as part of the city’s 2018-19 fiscal year budget. At that hearing nearly two dozen residents offered comments about the proposed increase, which the council approved at 82 percent instead of 115 percent.
During the Feb. 28 town hall meeting, and at subsequent meetings, Winn and the City Council said the need for a new public safety building and funding its construction is an integral part to the proposed tax increase.