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Idaho Falls Police Department one step closer to getting its first police station

Idaho Falls

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Entrance to the Idaho Falls Police Station inside the Law Enforcement Building | Eric Grossarth, EastIdahoNews.com

IDAHO FALLS — The Idaho Falls Police Department is closer to getting its first dedicated police station.

The Idaho Falls Police Department Facilities Evaluation Citizens Committee told the City Council last week that “yesterday” was the best time to build a new police station. The committee is made up of several citizens with varying backgrounds outside of the department. The police department now occupies eight aging facilities around Idaho Falls, and space constraints inhibit its ability to fight crime, the committee said.

The city considered a similar project in 2007, but the recession stalled those plans.

“We’re just kicking the can down the road at the expense of security for the community,” said Council President Thomas Hally. “It’s time. My foot’s sore. I don’t want to kick the can anymore.”

The department’s current facilities

At the center of the aging facilities are the 5,670 square feet occupied by the department in Bonneville County’s Law Enforcement Building. Constructed in the 1970s, the department crammed its detectives, evidence storage, patrol officers and support staff inside before leasing and borrowing more space around town.

Hally, said he was “flabbergasted” during an earlier tour of the facilities.

“I couldn’t work here,” Hally said. “It was deplorable then, and it’s more deplorable now.”

The patrol room of the police department sometimes holds up to 20 officers at a time. | Eric Grossarth, EastIdahoNews.com

Chief Bryce Johnson said only having the “Law Enforcement Building” creates confusion for those looking to report a crime, get fingerprinted or give a witness statement. He said greeting visitors as they enter the building are armed Bonneville County Sheriff’s Office deputies with a metal detector and X-ray machine.

“This most certainly is not a warm or non-threatening greeting,” an evaluation report reads. “The department wants to encourage the public to visit and feel welcome, to participate in outreach programs and to help the officers feel an integral member of the community.”

Visitors walk to the front desk before being escorted through a narrow hallway containing temporary evidence lockers, fingerprinting machine and a door to a multipurpose room. That room serves as a briefing room, a room to interview victims, lunchroom and “cut through” for the rest of the office.

“Unfortunately, there are times when the room is being used for an interview, and someone mistakenly walks into the room,” said Jessica Clements, spokeswoman for the Idaho Falls Police Department. “Officers are simply trying to move from the evidence packaging counter to short-term evidence storage space, or from the hallway into the patrol room and they may be interrupting a person reporting a sexual assault or other sensitive crime.”

Multipurpose room of the Idaho Falls Police Department | Eric Grossarth, EastIdahoNews.com

Adjacent to the conference room, officers package and test evidence. Police are concerned about the lack of ventilation to give protection from the release of fatal doses of fentanyl. And in the same room as where officers process evidence sit computers for patrol officers to file reports. Clements said at shift change, the room can have as many as 20 officers sharing the space. Surrounding the room are two offices shared by eight sergeants and an office shared by three lieutenants.

More concerning to officers is having its two interrogation rooms next to each other. Clements said it uses decades-old designs, lacks soundproofing and is inadequate for modern interrogation techniques.

With even small hallways turned to offices, space for the department’s growth required detectives, the chief and other staff lease the other facilities. Having the facilities spread throughout town inhibits the ability of the police to function efficiently, Clements said.

“IFPD is currently split between eight different facilities, which hampers our ability to effectively collaborate, makes us less accessible to the public and means that we spend a lot of time moving between the different buildings,” Clements said. “(That is) time that could be used more productively to respond to the city’s needs if we were in one consolidated police facility.”

Options for the police department

Some suggest the department buy a vacant big-box-store like the old Deseret Industries building for conversion into a police station. Johnson said the purchase price of these box stores almost always exceeds the city’s available funds.

“The cost of hardening (security building features) an existing building can cost as much or greater than new construction,” said Mayor Rebecca Casper.

Additionally, the old Deseret Industries building is no longer for sale.

Throughout this process, Clements said, the department is actively searching for a site to build a new building. Although Clements could not comment on specific sites, the Citizens Committee recommended keeping the department close to downtown. An architect’s facilities evaluations states the department would need at least five acres for the building, parking and storage.

The evaluation committee says “hands down,” the best option is to build a single-story building for functionality purposes.

“Reasons include better flow of officers and staff through the building, and it keeps day-to-day activities of officers close to their vehicles,” the report reads.

How the city would pay for a new police station

“Financially, the best time to build was always yesterday,” said Chris Lee, chair of the evaluation committee.

If the City Council approves a new police station, the city would need to secure funding.

“This is all money we would have to find,” Casper said.

The council spent more than an hour of Friday’s meeting with a financial representative to discuss three possible options to pay for the building. Casper said financial advisors discourage the idea of the city self-financing the project, calling it unhealthy. She said other financing options include traditional bonding or an annual appropriation certificate of participation.

Bonding is a debt the city incurs by a two-thirds supermajority vote of the citizens. The money borrowed through a bond is paid back through property taxes.

Certificates of participation work differently than bonds, as the issue wouldn’t appear on a ballot, allowing the city to use the funds earlier than bonding. A certificate of participation is a lease-financing agreement renewed annually by the city. If the city did not renew the lease, the property and building would go back to the investors while they recoup the cost. Once the lease is paid off the property’s ownership then transfers to the city.

A 2015 Idaho Supreme Court ruling determined a certificate of participation as a legal in the funding of a Greater Boise Auditorium District project.

The council suggested one option is using forgone taxes (increasing taxes not previously collected) to pay for the financing, raising property taxes for those living in Idaho Falls.

“That may put a taste in your mouth to do that, but that’s what we would be looking at to do this,” Casper said. “We have to weigh all the different things at stake here.”

Using projections by bank representatives, with a $25 million project cost used as a placeholder, the city would need to find an extra $1.4 million in revenue to pay investors over a 30-year-lease using certificates of participation. Although cost projections say bonding the project would save around $1 million over the same period, council members said the 8 to 10 percent inflation rate on construction costs incurred while waiting to receive bond money could cost more.

City Council work session to discuss the construction of a new police station. | Eric Grossarth, EastIdahoNews.com

Casper said bonding the project risks failing to obtain the two-thirds vote needed while a certificate of participation’s inherit political risk may spark debate at the state level.

“I think some would say, ‘Well, this is a clear example of trying to get around having to bond, and we’re going to make you a poster child’,” Casper said. “There may be some entities out there that don’t want to see this kind of thing happen without consulting the voters.”

Casper said all this may come even though the city can support a certificate of participation’s benefits outweigh bonding the project. Casper said both bonding and a certificate of participation would result in a tax increase.

“We have money that we have to come up with,” Casper said. “Either we tax for it or we tax for it, and we see that here.”

The council hasn’t made a decision but expect to continue the discussion over construction, funding and site locations in upcoming meetings.

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