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MailTribune.com
  • Explanation needed

    Medford police need a new building, but how much building do they really need?
  • Medford city leaders have figured out a way to pay for three new fire stations and a new police headquarters — and to do it without asking voters' approval. That's good news, but it won't get them entirely off the hook.
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  • Medford city leaders have figured out a way to pay for three new fire stations and a new police headquarters — and to do it without asking voters' approval. That's good news, but it won't get them entirely off the hook.
    The total cost of the projects would be $32 million. The city would sell revenue bonds for that amount, which it can do without voter approval.
    To pay off the bonds, the city would add a surcharge of $2 a month to residents' utility bills, as is done now for street and other fees. Over the first five years, the fee would gradually increase to a peak of $4.82 a month, but other fees are scheduled to decline over the same period, so the net increase to residents for the bonds would still be about $2 after five years.
    Despite the protests of some city residents that they are being taxed to death, we don't think less than $25 a year will break anyone's bank account.
    That doesn't mean, however, that city leaders don't have some explaining to do. City Council members said they will spend the next several months justifying their actions to city residents.
    That's a good thing, because there is no indication that plans have been scaled back at all since the new police headquarters was first proposed. Earlier this year, the department came forward with a $20 million project with plans to ask voters for a property tax levy to pay for it.
    At the time, we suggested the proposal should be scaled back or voters would reject it. Now, city officials appear ready to proceed with the same plans but avoid seeking voter approval.
    There are good reasons for that, not the least of which is that the delay required to mount a bond measure campaign and hold an election would only increase the cost. Construction costs tend to rise over time, as do bond interest rates.
    Our system of government does not require a public vote on every expenditure or even every decision to tax residents. If it did, important public needs would go unmet, and there would be little point in electing leaders to make decisions to meet those needs.
    The City Council's decision to proceed with projects to provide up-to-date fire-rescue stations and give the police department adequate space to do its job shows leadership. But with that leadership comes the responsibility to be as frugal as possible with public money, especially when imposing fees without a public vote.
    Acting Fire Chief Gordon Sletmoe scaled back his request to improve all fire facilities in the city, dropping the bill from $16.6 million to $10.4 million, and will look for other sources for the balance.
    The police headquarters proposal, however, has actually grown in size from what was originally planned.
    The new proposal, which accounts for the bulk of the projects, would increase the department's space from 15,000 square feet to 42,000 square feet, nearly triple the room. A secure parking structure with space for 233 vehicles would also be part of the project.
    It is clear that any new police facility should be capable of withstanding an earthquake better than an ordinary government building, and that it needs state-of-the-art communication and security equipment. But city residents are justified in asking whether it needs to be as large as the department has requested.
    City leaders have their work cut out for them to convince residents they are spending public dollars wisely.
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