Our View: A case of reckless driving

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Steamboat Today editorial board — June to December 2013

  • Suzanne Schlicht, COO and publisher
  • Lisa Schlichtman, editor
  • Tom Ross, reporter
  • David Baldinger Jr., community representative
  • Lisa Brown, community representative

Contact the editorial board at 970-871-4221 or editor@SteamboatToday.com. Would you like to be a member of the board? Fill out a letter of interest now.

At Issue

The city of Steamboat Springs’ urgency in pursuing a new police station

Our View

After a series of missteps, it’s time to engage a broader slice of community leaders in the process.

A significant number of the people attending this week’s public hearing about the city of Steamboat Springs’ proposal to build a new police station in Rita Valentine Park professed their love for the police department despite their strong opposition to the plan.

We think it’s time for the city to take them at their word.

After a series of setbacks in its bid to find a location for a new police building, it’s time for the Steamboat Springs City Council to convene a panel of residents to study the need and urgency for undertaking such an expensive project.

We suggest that the panel include a cross section of community leaders from the private business, government, education and nonprofit communities as well as private residents. We’d also like to hear from the city planning staff and from the planning commission.

Together, the panel members could build the case for or against a new multimillion-dollar police station and advocate for the most practical location, leading to public buy-in. We’ve concluded, after reading and writing about this subject for 17 months, that the residents of Steamboat no longer have confidence in the process that brought us to this point.

When the proposal to relocate the Steamboat police and fire stations to new locations first surfaced in March 2012, we had the impression the driving motivation was to free up the building for commercial uses in order to foster a renaissance on Yampa Street.

The city was proposing to sell the police and fire buildings to a local businessman and build new facilities elsewhere. It was in early January 2013 that council member Cari Hermacinski astutely pointed out that in its most recent round of budget hearings, City Council had not ranked new police and fire facilities among its top six priorities for new capital projects.

When City Council abandoned the prearranged sale of the buildings last spring, the drive to modernize our police facilities continued with the city studying the feasibility of temporarily relocating the department into the Iron Horse Inn while it developed the new facility. Thankfully, city officials realized that would be piling a second bad idea on top of a previous boondoggle.

Finally, after contemplating the situation during the summer, the city produced a new plan in late August to locate the police headquarters in a corner of Rita Valentine Park, which has been serving as dedicated open space for many years. That plan was promptly slapped down by public opposition.

The current front-runner seems to be a plan to build a new police station on a parking lot adjacent to the current police station. That plan would leave the facility in downtown, and that might be wise. But wasn’t the city intent on removing it from downtown just a year ago?

We call a timeout.

We don’t think the city has paused long enough to clarify the urgency behind spending a big chunk of our treasure on a new police station at a time when the city thinks it cannot afford to keep its offices open five days per week.

We suspect there is a lingering public hangover from the city’s attempt earlier this year to sell its downtown emergency services building without first seeking the highest bidder. Too much of the public debate has been about the real estate on which a new police station would be built, and not enough of it has been about the facility’s specific needs.

It’s time to go back to square one and allow a task force comprising nonprofit leaders, bankers, educators, attorneys and commercial real estate experts to drive the process.

That has been a successful strategy for developing public buildings such as schools and a library in the past.

Comments

Fred Duckels 10 months, 4 weeks ago

Ventures of this nature need not be dictated by identity seeking visionaries, but must be put on the "to do" list and let the community thought process evolve. One factor is to wait for the economy to show promise so that we start with a leg up. The present situation is akin to deciding to get married in the next year, could be done but maybe not the best long term decision.

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John Fielding 10 months, 4 weeks ago

There is no doubt we hold our police in high regard. That becomes a motivation to do something spectacular as acknowledgment. But that also means nothing happens for years, when what they really need is much less much sooner.

There have been numerous reasonable suggestions about how to help them right now. Rental space, modular space, and use of other city facilities all have real potential and can be implemented almost immediately.

Lets get them some additional space right now, before winter, and let this long term planning run through a comprehensive process.

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Fred Duckels 10 months, 4 weeks ago

John, During the past bubble we were much busier in town and this subject didn't come up then, why is it now such a priority? I have been involved in major equipment purchases for a lifetime and emotion is a huge factor especially with those who are not spending their own funds. If an employee decides that he has performed well and it is time for a reward then his old pickup will probably not finish out the shift. This is human nature and I see this a definite factor in the ongoing discussions. I am a fan of our police dept. but common sense must prevail minus the emotion.

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Scott Wedel 10 months, 4 weeks ago

If the premise of the opinion piece is accepted then it also has to be accepted that city government ability to manage is fundamentally broken. This process has been an example of putting the cart before the horse and then trying to figure out how to adjust the horse's harness to make it work. It is way past time to say that putting the cart ahead of the horse simply does not work. It is time to go back to the start and put the cart behind the horse and then see how easy it becomes to proceed forwards.

A commission is not needed and probably not even beneficial. This is not some project that needs buy in from diverse groups of the public such as spending the accommodations tax. That benefited from a commission as the long process allowed groups of volunteers to strengthen their proposals. And then city council still mucked up the recommendations by attempting a compromise and propose a ballot measure that seemingly everyone thinks is a bad idea. (commit to a 10 year spending plan without being able to review it for effectiveness).

A new police station is a straightforward project by the city to meet the needs of city governance. That the city government has so messed up the process so badly to have proposed such half baked plans is reflects upon their competence. That the city council was considering selling the current building before having a plan for a replacement reflects upon their incompetence.

City government has spent about a year on this and still has not done what should have been the first step. There needs to be a public meeting where all options are discussed. Where the public is invited to ask questions and city government promises to answer the public's questions. Where the possible sizes and options are discussed and justified. (Why is a 6,000 sq ft garage needed when we have survived 40 years without any garage?) And then city government probably holds a follow up meeting to answer various questions asked at the first meeting and allow more knowledgeable consideration of what appears to be the leading options. And then City Council should have a vote to direct city staff to develop detailed plans for the top proposals.

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Steve Lewis 10 months, 4 weeks ago

John, I was following this discussion closely for awhile, and attended the early hearings. The rented, temporary facility many propose is not as simple as you would like. The use of the TIC building for instance, would require modifications to meet the special operational needs of the police. I believe that cost alone was said to be about $100,000.

And before one bothers with that one would need to consider the same code criteria that was overlooked while the Iron Horse was a contender as a temporary police facility. I'm referring to the code's "Importance Factors", i.e. the increased structural ability a building must have to house emergency service uses such as fire, police, and hospitals with surgery and emergency care abilities. For instance, the seismic (lateral) strength of any building housing the police would need to be 150% of that required in a typical office building. The idea is if we have an earthquake and there are building losses, we do not want our police, hospital or fire facilities among those losses.

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Harvey Lyon 10 months, 4 weeks ago

I'm still not sure why we need a new police station and why we need so many police of a highly sophosticated nature. The multi-million "command vehicle" remains parked at the Sheriff's office as does a lot of the "big purchases".

I'm unaware of any "major criminals" going free because our office space was too small.

Personally I'd like to hear from one of our elected judges that says SS/Routt County lacks resources necessary to maintain law enforcement and civility among its populance.

Only then will I consider supporting anything save an upgrade to present conditions.

Cops always want "bigger, better, faster, more" but I'm not for that unless there's a true need that comes from the Community, not the police force.

I'm inclined to believe we're just fine right now.

Harv Lyon

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John Fielding 10 months, 4 weeks ago

Fred, I think we'd find that conditions in the station have been overcrowded for quite some time. I also think it does not always follow that a slower economy results in less activity for the police, some types of crime rise as a result, especially domestic discord. It is also likely they have more work and added procedures from the increasing complexity of government generally, and homeland security mandates in particular. I accept the position that they need more room to be more efficient and effective. But I am sure they will do well with far less than what is under consideration presently.

Increased regulation also plays into Steve's comment. Requiring increased standards for police stations has a certain appeal, but there is such a thing as being too careful, going beyond practical measures. We live in a fairly stable area seismically speaking, and a flood of great magnitude is unlikely unless the Stagecoach dam breaks. With upgrades to older buildings there is usually a point at which full code compliance is mandated, generally speaking it would be if a massive amount of work was proposed. Turning the old fire truck bays into other purpose spaces may not meet that threshold. And placing a temporary modular facility in the parking lot would likely be exempt or warrant an exception.

Above all else I call for common sense to prevail. I agree that the current process has too much emotion and includes some motivations other than those that are entirely appropriate to balanced decision making.

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Mark Ruckman 10 months, 4 weeks ago

If a panel was created would the city council give the panel decision authority or would it override the outcome? The city council should answer this question before anyone is asked to serve on the panel and the incoming city council somehow need to abide by the answer.

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jerry carlton 10 months, 4 weeks ago

John "Common Sense" is a commodity that has pretty much vanished at all levels of government. With you and Scott Ford added to the council I predict some common sense and fiscal responsibility will return to city council.

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