Hope for Pasco police station rides on public safety tax

Geoff Folsom, Tri-City HeraldSeptember 21, 2013 

Metzger Pasco Station

Pasco Police Chief Bob Metzger stands in the grassy field just east of the city hall parking lot where he hopes to use the public safety tax to build a new 38,000 square foot police station.

BOB BRAWDY — Tri-City Herald Buy Photo

When Franklin County voters approved a public safety tax two years ago, Pasco Police Chief Bob Metzger said the department's first priority was to set up a Street Crimes Unit.

The four officers in the undercover unit have been in place since late 2012, so Metzger's new priority is finding a better place to house them and the rest of the department.

The unit has been stationed in a trailer outside the main police station on the north side of city hall and the department's been in the renovated former Pasco High School building since 1994.

The trailer is similar to what you'd see at an overcrowded school, Metzger said.

"It's the same concept," he said. "It's a double-wide, just like that."

Metzger hopes to next use public safety tax dollars to build a new 38,000-square-foot police station in the grassy ballfields just east of the city hall parking lot.

"The city's doubled in size," he said. "We've doubled in size."

The department has 71 officers.

The street crimes officers aren't the only ones dealing with cramped quarters.

The department's three female police officers have to go into a room in the main part of city hall to change because their old locker room was converted into an extra men's locker room. And that area doesn't even provide enough locker room space, since some lockers are in a hallway.

The department's six sergeants have to share three offices. Metzger said that means if one has to talk to one of his officers, his office mate could be bumped out of the room.

The proposed new building also would be pre-wired for new technology, Metzger said. It also might have an area where officers could remotely control traffic signals in the city.

Kennewick and Richland have opened police stations more recently than Pasco's. Metzger said those facilities also are expandable, which he also wants for the new Pasco station, to accommodate future growth. The city has looked at adding a third floor to the existing building but found that to be cost prohibitive.

"It should be the last (police) department the city would ever need," he said.

Deputy City Manager Stan Strebel said construction costs continue to rise. The city's preliminary capital improvement plan for 2014-19 puts the new police station at $10.7 million. But the cost now looks to be $13 million to $14 million.

"Construction costs go up faster than inflation, and certainly faster than city revenue," Strebel said.

The city still is looking for a way to meet the disparity between the cost of the building and revenue from the public safety tax, said City Manager Gary Crutchfield. That means cutting costs or finding other sources of revenue.

The city brings in about $1.1 million annually from the three-tenths of a percent public safety tax approved by Franklin County voters in November 2011, but allocates $500,000 annually for the Street Crimes Unit, Crutchfield said.

The tax would pay for between $8 million and $8.5 million of the police station's cost. The city would like to start work on the new police station in 2015, with construction taking about a year, Crutchfield said.

"If we wait too long, interest rates start going back up and it costs us even more," he said.

The city plans to use the vacated police station in city hall to house other city offices, Crutchfield said.

Nobody is interested in cutting the Street Crimes Unit to pay for the new building.

Metzger asked officers whether they would rather have the Street Crimes Unit or the new building after the public safety tax passed. He said they all wanted the new officers, who handle crimes ranging from minor thefts and burglaries to gang activity.

The Pasco unit is comparable to Kennewick's Criminal Apprehension Team and Richland's Street Crimes Unit, which replaced its Proactive Anti-Crime Team.

"We wanted to make sure we kept the crime rate low," Metzger said. "After that, get the building done."

-- Geoff Folsom: 509-582-1543; gfolsom@tricityherald.com; Twitter: @GeoffFolsom

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