Police to stay put for now
City council votes down building purchase to relocate department downtown
The La Grande City Council voted 6-1 Tuesday night to withdraw its offer to purchase a downtown building for the purpose of relocating the police department there.
The council voted after several members of the community addressed the council, including Gary Kiesecker of La Grande, who told the council he wanted to purchase the building to convert it into a bowling alley.
Kiesecker said his idea would benefit La Grande financially by putting the building on the tax rolls. Kiesecker said he would hire 16 to 20 people to work at the bowling center.
A number of councilors said following input from Kiesecker and others that because of the tax revenue it would generate they would rather have a business occupy the building instead of the police department.
Councilor Mary Ann Miesner raised another issue when she pointed out that a number of people have asked her when members of the business community will have an opportunity to talk to the council about how they would feel about having the police department downtown. Miesner said it will be important for the council to give the business community the opportunity to do this before deciding whether to move the police department downtown.
Miesner said she appreciates the problems the police department is facing.
“I agree that the police department has issues which need to be taken care of,” Miesner said.
During the approximately 75-minute meeting, the name of the property was never mentioned. However, La Grande Mayor Daniel Pokorney confirmed the property under consideration was the old Eagles Lodge building, situated at 1212 Jefferson Ave.
The council was considering purchasing the building, which is for sale, after a Nov. 18 work session at which Police Chief Brian Harvey discussed the need for his department to relocate. Harvey cited many problems with the police department’s present building include maintenance problems and overcrowding. The police department is presently housed at the Union County Law Enforcement Center, 1109 K Ave., which it shares with the Union County Sheriff’s Office.
Jerry Sebestyen was the lone councilor who voted against the resolution not to make the purchase.
“This is one of the most difficult decisions I’ve made,” Sebestyen said. “The police department has a real need.”
He said the decision was tough because the people opposing the purchase of the Eagles building made a number of good points.
“All of the arguments for why we should not buy the building are very good. That it is why (making the decision on the vote) is so agonizing,” Sebestyen said.
He said that the issue should be addressed soon because the longer the city waits to move forward on the police department issue the more expensive addressing the problem will become.
The City of La Grande would have been able to purchase the property for about $200,000 with reserve funds, said City Manager Robert Strope. However, the city does not have enough funding available to cover the approximately $1 million which would be needed to renovate the building without cutting programs. The city would have had to take another step to raise the money for renovation work. One option would have been a bond levy.
Should a bowling center become a reality, Kiesecker said it would fill an important need.
“People (from the La Grande area) have to go Baker City now to bowl,” Kiesecker said.
La Grande has not had a bowling center since the Rock Bowling & Family Fun Center closed about five years ago.
Kiesecker said following the meeting he was pleased with the council’s decision.
“I’m very happy,” he said.