West Richland police bond issue opponents say they have a better plan. Here’s their idea

A look inside the West Richland Police Department

A look into the West Richland police Department building. West Richland Police Department is asking voters to sign off on a $12.5 million bond to build a new building.
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A look into the West Richland police Department building. West Richland Police Department is asking voters to sign off on a $12.5 million bond to build a new building.

The opponents and supporters of next week’s West Richland bond measure can agree on one thing — the current police station is too small.

But when it comes to the size of the future police station, its proposed location or even the future of the city, the two sides don’t see eye to eye.

Voters have until next Tuesday to cast their vote on the proposed $12.5 million bond issue, and about 14 percent of the ballots have already been returned.

The money would replace the 3,500-square-foot police facility on Van Giesen Street with a 22,500-square-foot facility, likely on Bombing Range Road. To pass, 60 percent of the voters would need to approve the measure.

The proposal is expected to add 42 cents per $1,000 of assessed value to property taxes in the city — meaning the owner of a $200,000 home would pay $84 more a year for property taxes.

A committee worked for more than a year to create an outline for what it feels is the best option for a growing community. Along with commissioning Intregrus Architecture, they visited Richland and Pasco police stations and held several discussions before presenting a final proposal.

Their opponents — former Mayor Jerry Peltier, Planning Commissioner Nancy Aldrich and resident Tex Bender — say the plans call for a station that is far too big for their small city. They also believe the measure’s backers made some misguided assumptions about future population growth in the city.

Growth in West Richland

When the committee putting together the proposed bond issue settled on a final plan to replace the station, they based their design on the Pasco police station. The larger building would give the department the space it needs for the next 50 years, Chair Jon Wierschke said.

Opponents say that much growth is never going happen. Tex Bender notes that there are still large sections of the western part of the city that remain undeveloped, and he is skeptical that it will ever grow to fill the space.

While city leaders said the population has more than doubled in the past 20 years, Bender said he expects the city to reach only 22,000 people by that time, which would make the population smaller than Richland. He doesn’t see the justification for a station that is larger than Richland’s.

Bender’s population figures closely match the city’s own projections in its planning documents. The 2017 comprehensive plan forecasts the city’s population at 22,409 in 2037. And while the 2016 water plan does estimate a higher rate of growth, it is still close to that population level.

Supporters of the bond proposal are skeptical about Bender’s numbers. They point to developments currently springing up along Belmont Boulevard, Paradise Way and Mt Adams View Road, and also note that there are low vacancy rates in the Tri-Cities. They see the explosive growth of Pasco and believe there isn’t that much more room for expansion elsewhere, so they believe West Richland is the next logical growth area.

Bender acknowledges the developments are being built, but said they won’t change the city from a bedroom community.

Intregrus expects the city’s police department will add between six and 10 new sworn officers and another six civilians, bringing the total staff to between 32 and 37 people over the next 20 years. That is still fewer than the 83 staff members that Richland has when it’s fully staffed.

Build a smaller building

The opponents suggest a smaller, 15,000-square-foot building on the same 2 1/2-acre parcel of land where the police station is now. Bender estimates that could save the city at least $4 million.

Bender said the building proposed in the bond measure is too large for what West Richland needs.

West Richland Police Station
Police Chief Ben Majetich stands in the lobby at the West Richland Police Department. The small lobby acts as a fingerprinting station, payment station and medical disposal dropoff. Noelle Haro-Gomez Noelle Haro-Gomez

The opponent’s plan, said Wierschke and Police Chief Ben Majetich, would ultimately cost the city more in the long term. Wierschke said the smaller building may work for 20 years, but the city would be back where it is now, looking to build a new facility at the end of that time.

Much of Bender’s argument focuses on the belief that the Richland Police Department is comfortable in its building, a view that Majetich and Wierschke dispute. They say Richland police are cramped in their facility and have turned closets into offices.

Unlike Richland, West Richland is also responsible for animal control, so it needs to have space for kennels on its property, the proponents noted.

The two sides also don’t agree on whether the city could use the land that surrounds the current police station.

Bender said the acre of city-owned property behind the Mid-Columbia Library building would be more than enough land for a police station.

Majetich said the land issue is more complex than Bender is portraying it. The two city-owned buildings that Bender points to are both being sold. So that only leaves the quarter-acre parcel where the current station is located. The architects suggested between four and five acres to allow space for expansion, Majetich said.