By a 4-1 vote, the Turlock City Council awarded construction bids for a new, 57,570 square foot home for Turlock’s Police and Fire Departments on Tuesday, despite citizen concerns about funding the project’s approximately $33.6 million price tag.
“This is about public safety and security for our community,” Mayor John Lazar said. “I think it’s been demonstrated we can afford the project.”
Construction on the facility will be completed in about two years.
Approximately $5.5 million has already been spent on property acquisition for the facility, to be located adjacent to the rebuilt Carnegie Arts Center on the corner of Olive Avenue and Broadway. The remaining, as of yet unspent $28.3 million in construction costs, contingencies, and “soft costs” like permits and furnishings will be funded from a variety of sources.
The largest chunk, just over $13.5 million, will come from a sale of Turlock Redevelopment Agency bonds conducted Thursday. The $15.3 million bond issuance raised $13.5 million after the council received a better than expected interest rate, though higher than initially estimated.
RDA bonds are repaid from existing property tax revenue increment, solely from properties within the redevelopment area, and will not increase fees for any Turlockers. A little over $2.9 million in preexisting RDA funds will go toward the project as well.
More than $1.1 million in Prop 1B transportation funds will be redirected to perform road improvements associated with the project. Those funds would have otherwise been spent on various street resurfacing projects, including Tully Road north of Fulkerth Road and High Street.
About $4 million in a Capital Facility Fee Contingency Fund – fees paid by developers when they build in Turlock – will also be redirected to the project. That money had been used as seed funding for other projects in the past, including purchasing land for a new Fulkerth Road interchange, but was intended to eventually be directed toward a Public Safety Facility, City Engineer Mike Pitcock said a former city manager told him.
Only about $6.6 million would come from funds not already in the City of Turlock’s possession.
About $4.1 million would be collected through new Capital Facility Fees. While the CFF increase would come as a cost to developers – and ultimately to consumers who buy or rent their buildings – the City of Turlock said the per-unit cost would likely be similar to existing fees, given the higher unit density in the ongoing General Plan revision.
Costs better than expected
Despite the costs, the accepted price tag is as good as the city will see for the project, City Manager Roy Wasden said. Construction is currently inexpensive because contractors are eager for work in the down economy.
“The project has received good bids that are under engineering estimates,” Wasden said. “It’s believed if the project was rebid today it would significantly increase project costs.”
Wasden said the project was originally planned to be $37.5 million in total, compared with a total cost of $33.6 million for the project as approved. That’s less than the $40 million plus that remodeling the current police department would cost, as well.
The final cost is also about $1 million below what bids initially proposed, thanks to some last-minute value engineering. According to Turlock Police Chief Gary Hampton, that value engineering comes solely from aesthetic and slight architectural changes – like omitting solar tubes for ambient light and changing light poles used in the parking lot – and will not affect the functional operation of the facility.
The final cost of the project may come in lower yet, according to city staff. Those value engineering methods may provide greater savings, while staff will look to save money on furnishings and spend little of the approximately $130,000 contingency fund.
But audience members, including Turlocker Ron Arakelian questioned whether a police station that pricy was truly needed in Turlock. He raised concerns about the size, cost, and amenities, referencing a 2004 Lodi public safety facility which cost just $15 million.
“I can’t help but ask, what are we buying that Lodi didn’t buy?” Arakelian asked. “… Either we’re paying too much, or the project is too big.”
“It is far from being a Cadillac public safety facility,” Hampton said. “There is not an inch of space not used here.”
Councilwoman Mary Jackson sided with those who feared the cost may be too high in casting the dissenting vote.
“I do want to build it, and that’s not why I’m saying this, I’m just apprehensive,” Jackson said. “It’s not that I don’t want it there, it’s not that I don’t have even bigger dreams, it’s just right now I feel like we have to be fiscally responsible.”
Jackson suggested the council abandon the current bids and redesign the facility with a fixed $15 million or $20 million spending limit. She also expressed concern that the unstable legal status of redevelopment agencies may result in unforeseen consequences for the City of Turlock.
In his Jan. 11 California Budget Proposal, Gov. Jerry Brown (D) proposed eliminating all redevelopment agencies statewide. That proposal threw the municipal bond market into disarray, resulting in the City of Turlock receiving a 7.46 percent interest rate on their bond. A 6.75 percent interest rate had been projected just weeks before, which would have raised an additional $1.5 million in revenues – reducing the burden on CFF accounts.
The specifics of how the state will implement the elimination of RDAs has yet to be determined, but it is believed the state will honor existing RDA debts – like the $13.5 million generated from Turlock’s recent RDA bond sale for the PSF. But city staff was split on whether Turlock would be allowed to retain those funds if they weren’t allocated to a specific project before the elimination of RDAs occurs.
City Attorney Phaedra Norton stated the City of Turlock could possibly face additional, unknown litigation costs from those whose property was seized via eminent domain for the PSF, should the project not move forward.
Vice Mayor Amy Bublak introduced the motion to approve all bids and Councilman Forrest White seconded, with very little discussion from the council.
After the motion carried 4-1, Jackson continued to voice concerns about the project’s cost. She requested that the city do everything possible to secure additional funding for the PSF from the federal government.
On a January trip to Washington D.C., Lazar learned of a grant which may be able to offset about $1 million related to communications equipment for the facility.
“If it takes us hiring a lobbyist to get more federal money, I’m in for that,” Jackson said.
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