A proposed $32 million bond to pay for a new police headquarters and three firehouses should not require voter approval, the Medford City Council agreed Thursday.

A proposed $32 million bond to pay for a new police headquarters and three firehouses should not require voter approval, the Medford City Council agreed Thursday.

The projects would be paid for by adding a police surcharge to utility fees over a 30-year period. The fee would raise $2 million a year, and the interest rate on the bond would be 4.75 percent.

Under the proposal, the police would build a $21.6 million headquarters and parking garage at Ivy and 10th streets. The Medford Fire-Rescue would build three new firehouses to replace buildings constructed in the 1950s and '70s.

City Finance Director Alison Chan said the police surcharge to pay for the bond would increase utility bills by $2 a month the first year. The fee would rise over time, eventually hitting $4.82 a month by the fifth year. During the five-year period, other existing fees, such as a $2.82 street fee, would decline. The net effect is that by the end of five years, the overall utility fees would rise from $49.71 to $51.79 per month.

Other fees for parks and public works also are being proposed.

The council instructed its staff to spend the next two months creating the documents that would allow the city to seek revenue bonds to pay for the projects.

In the meantime, councilors said they would take their case to residents to explain the need and the cost.

"There was an outcry that this was a Taj Mahal of a police station," Councilor Chris Corcoran said.

He said he wanted to be able to address local concerns about the cost of the headquarters, which was announced earlier this year.

The council, which has the authority to raise utility fees such as the police surcharge, didn't want to seek approval from voters for the bond because any delays could mean higher interest rates.

About $6 million of the budget for the police station would include a secure, three-story parking garage.

The police headquarters would be designed to withstand a major disaster such as an earthquake. It also would have security features and other improvements that aren't found in a typical office building. As a result, the council learned, the building would cost $250 a square foot.

Corcoran said City Hall might survive an earthquake, but the building would be so compromised that it couldn't be occupied.

"In essence, our police would be out in the parking lot conducting business," he said.

Councilor Eli Matthews agreed that the new buildings are necessary, but he said more should be done to lessen the burden on taxpayers.

"Is there no other viable option to lighten the load?" he asked.

Councilor John Michaels said he recalled that the council previously considered a new police station when the cost was less than $10 million.

"We did not take action back then," he said. "I do not want to wait any longer."

The previous cost estimates for the police station were based on a smaller building.

Medford Police Chief Tim George said the proposed building would provide enough space for 25 years. As the population grows, the need for substations will probably increase to keep response times down, he said.

The police are now housed in a 15,000-square-foot area, but space would increase to 42,243 square feet in the new building.

"Suspects, victims and witnesses all share the same hallway at times," George said.

Acting Fire Chief Gordon Sletmoe said he scaled back his request to improve all fire facilities in the city. He was originally asking for $16.6 million, which included training and logistics facilities.

The $10.4 million would pay for virtually new buildings at three locations to bring them up to modern standards.

Sletmoe said the fire department still will need the original amount he requested, but would find other ways to raise that money. For instance, a $2.4 million training facility likely will be a collaboration between the fire department, Fire District No. 3 and Rogue Community College, he said.

Mayor Gary Wheeler said the city's needs for police and fire facilities will increase as the population rises. Also, the police headquarters in City Hall isn't designed to be operational if a major earthquake strikes.

"We need to be prepared," Wheeler said.

If the council approves the bonds, construction could begin next summer and finish in about 18 months.

City Manager Eric Swanson said the proposal is an attempt to come up with a way to fund the new buildings with the least impact on taxpayers.

He said the council will need to fully explain the decision to city residents, who might have their own opinions about the utility fee increase.

"It's a challenge," he said.

Reach reporter Damian Mann at 541-776-4476 or dmann@mailtribune.com.