When Tooele City Mayor Debbie Winn announced on Feb. 28, 2018, that she wanted to build a new home for the City’s police department and give officers more pay, it at first sounded like a bold wish list by a new mayor.
But much to Winn and the Tooele City Council’s credit, that wish list became reality last week. And stunningly, Winn made it happen — along with a city property tax increase to help pay for it — within 15 months after taking office.
As reported in Thursday’s edition, the city broke ground last Wednesday on an $8.46 million public safety building. Located on Garden Street behind City Hall, the 21,000-square-foot police station is scheduled to take 11 months to build. It will replace the police department’s current, 50-year-old facility at 323 N. Main St. That building is in disrepair and deemed insufficient to meet the police department’s current and future needs.
The city obtained a $9 million loan through the state’s Permanent Community Impact Fund Board to pay for the facility’s construction. The loan has a 30-year term at 2.5 percent interest, with an annual debt service of $417,000. Last August, the City Council approved an 82 percent property tax increase to pay for it, plus for other city budget needs.
During the groundbreaking ceremony, Winn told the audience it was a “great day” for the police department and residents — and didn’t hold back to mention the tax increase that made it possible.
“You endured a tax increase last year that is funding this building that is so desperately needed,” she said. “And I appreciate all of you very much and on behalf of the (City) Council, we appreciate you very much.”
In his remarks during the ceremony, Tooele City Police Chief Ron Kirby thanked the mayor and City Council for their support. But his words also indicated an important point that shows such support wasn’t freely given — it was earned.
“If the officers don’t have a good reputation, projects like this are very hard to get funded,” Kirby said.
It’s also hard to get a pay increase. The City Council granted one to the police department last November, along with an improved benefits package to hopefully keep more officers from being lured away by other agencies that pay more.
When Winn announced plans to build a new police station and pay officers more, we published an editorial in March 2018 in support of that endeavor. Due to agency competition along the Wasatch Front, we saw the pay increase as a necessary step for officer recruitment and retention. We also saw replacing the current police station as long over due. Compromising public safety in a growing community can only be stretched so far before unwanted consequences emerge.
Time will tell if better pay, improved benefits, and a new public safety building helps reduce the high turnover rate of officers, which was stated at 56 percent last year. But no more ticks on the clock are needed to conclude if Winn would put her words into action. She and the City Council delivered on a wish list in a short amount of time.