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The Eagles building is one of three buildings that match city descriptions of a building they may purchase, possibly for a new police station. City officials will not disclose which building they are looking at, but a decision will be made by the city council in open session Dec. 11. (PHIL BULLOCK/The Observer)
City council considers new home for police department; decision on building acquisition will be made Dec. 11
The La Grande City Council will decide Dec. 11 on whether the city will move forward to purchase a downtown building.
At a work session Monday night, city councilors and city staff discussed the possibility of acquiring the building to relocate the La Grande Police Department.
Police Chief Brian Harvey laid out problems with the department’s current facilities in the Union County Law Enforcement Building in a staff report. Among the issues discussed are maintenance problems and overcrowding. The department shares the facility with the Union County Sheriff’s Office.
“There’s several issues,” Harvey told councilors. “We can make do. We always have. We always will. But at some point you’ve got to have the bare core structure there to still be existing to be able to work inside it.”
Harvey said a leaking roof needs to be addressed. He also said conducting interviews is a problem as there is not adequate space and no entrance they can use that does not interfere with the public or staff. Those at the session noted that the county has added several deputies since the building was erected in the late 1970s.
City Manager Robert Strope said the city has the “financial wherewithal” to acquire the building, but renovations would run about $1 million. The city would pay about $100,000 a year in debt service, funds Strope said are not available at this point in time. That means it would be paid for at the expense of some other projects, Strope said.
Strope said the city has other options if the council wants to proceed with the purchase. The city could hold the building for resale or tear it down for parking space. Councilor John Lackey said he did not think the city should be in the real estate business.
Councilor John Bozarth said he is aware of a backup offer on the building that could potentially put the property back on the tax rolls. Bozarth said he would prefer the city wait to see what happens with that offer and then consider trying to acquire the building if that falls through.
Lackey said that would just be deferring a necessary expense.
“The location is about as good as we can find,” Lackey said. “We’re going to have this expense one way or another somewhere down the road.”
City officials are remaining tight-lipped about which downtown building is being looked at, but Harvey did say the building would provide about twice as much usable space with ample parking.
A La Grande Observer search of available downtown properties within the parameters outlined by the city — downtown and with a price of $200,000 or less — revealed three buildings on the market. Two of those, located at 1214 Adams Ave. and 214 Greenwood St., are less than 4,000 square feet. A third building, the Eagles Building, located at 1212 Jefferson Ave., shows 29,000 square feet of space. The status on that building, according to the Re/Max website, is pending.
At the work session, city staff and councilors also looked at five-year financial projections. Through discussion, there was a consensus that something must change as expenses and the cost of doing business are outpacing revenue.
One option raised is to increase or to put into place user or utility fees for services like the pool and library.
Bozarth said he opposed enacting more user fees, but other councilors said they see few other options to help balance revenue and expenditures without affecting the level of service. Instead, Bozarth said, he would rather see fees increase for those living outside the city limits.
“I almost think it’s time to play hardball with people outside the city,” he said.
County residents pay about $20,000 a year for library services but make up about 35 percent of users.
As for direction to city staff, councilors said they want to see a specific plan for economic development.