“It’s a done deal. It's going to happen,” proclaimed Harrison Mayor Jerry Jackson after the city council members unanimously passed both a resolution and a one time reading of an ordinance creating a Franchise Fee Fund for the financing and construction of a proposed Public Safety Building project last Thursday night.
The votes came during the council’s regular monthly meeting two days after a special council meeting held to introduce to the public the proposed project and to explain how a franchise fee fund will be used to finance a bond issue to pay for it. The city’s voters will not be asked to pass a new tax. In breaking down cost estimates for the 35,915-square-foot building, city Chief Operations Officer Wade Phillips said the mayor directed the city’s administrative staff to limit costs for the building right at $8 million.
Citing historically low interest rates and building costs that have leveled and are predicted to gradually fall over the next two years, Mayor Jackson said, “There’s not a better time to build, nor a better time to borrow.”
The building will house fire department headquarters including the city inspection and permits division, police department and administrative offices including the water/sewer office, the mayor’s office and a larger meeting room for the city council. The building site is on five acres of city-owned land on Industrial Park Road where Fire Station 2 and a softball field are now located.
The current city hall building downtown was built circa 1950. Since then it has been flooded and blown apart. It survived the May 1961 flood and the 1979 natural gas explosion that destroyed the then-Allied Telephone Co. building behind city hall where Windstream now does business. The city building was never officially condemned, the mayor noted, but it is held together in some areas with bolts and cables.
An architect’s rendering shows the proposed building to be of modern design and materials. The land which lies along Dry Jordan would be raised about four to five feet in elevation. The design of the building allows for easy expansion when it’s needed.
The proposed building’s square-footage was broken down for the fire, police and administration. Administration was allocated 19%, police department 38% and fire department 43%.
Each department is responsible for paying for its share of space. That would be $1.6 million, $3.1 million and $3.2 million respectively. The general fund has enough money to pay the full $1.6 million for administration. The fire department and police department have saved public safety tax dollars in their funds and both currently have enough money for each to make a $1 million, plus, down payment.
The city’s bond attorney and underwriter propose that franchise fee bonds be used to finance a loan repayment over 10 years. It could be expanded to 12 years. This does not require voter approval.
The resolution and an accompanying ordinance that lays out the financing plan was already prepared, but council members forwarded the documents to the regular council meeting to give the public time to make comments. The ordinance only had to be read one time for passage.
No one came forward to comment on the project Thursday night. Jackson and council members said the only comment they received was, “Why did it take so long?”
Also on Thursday, the council:
• Approved the revised fire pay grid that addresses the state required minimum wage increase.
• Approved the purchase of software for the fire department’s inspection division allowing forms, applications, permit fees and other payments to be accepted and made online.
• Approved the purchase of Chromebooks for council members using funds received by a FEMA grant.
• Adopted a resolution calling a public hearing for 6 p.m. Thursday, July 23, regarding the proposed abandonment of an alley that runs basically south from Stephenson Avenue to nearly Central Avenue. Phillips said the location of the alley doesn’t match the original plat of the city. Phillips said the issue didn’t come up until Arvest Bank bought the old Bear State Bank, which operated drive-thru teller windows near the alley. Phillips said the alley would be abandoned and dedicated to the city once again after the paperwork is cleaned up.
The council also released funds for the fire department to relocate its inspection and permit offices out of Fire Station 1 to rental offices downtown. At committee meetings earlier in June, Chief Marc Lowery said some office space was found at the Saville building on East Rush Avenue. Since then the department was offered larger space for the same cost at the Durand Center building. That cost is $750 a month or $8,000 for the rest of the year.