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Voters might decide Jacksonville public safety building location

JACKSONVILLE — After years of debate among community and council members over where to locate a new public safety building, the final decision may be left up to the voters.

The City Council last Tuesday informally agreed that a November ballot measure might be the best way to settle the question of where to house fire and police services.

In December, the council voted 4-3 to locate the building at 400 W. C St., adjacent to the Britt Festivals steps, where it would share space with public works staff. Then last week, some council members wanted to offer a second site for consideration: 655 Fifth St.

The new proposal doesn't sit well with some.

"All we want to do is vote 'yes' or 'no' on the current proposed location," said Dan Winterburn, who represents a group unhappy with the C Street site. "They obfuscated a bit. The community people are shaking their heads 'no.' We're not happy."

Council members on Tuesday called for a feasibility study on the property on Fifth Street.

If the Fifth Street site proves workable, it would be placed on a ballot as a choice along with the approved C Street site, which already has been shown viable through a feasibility study.

Council members Chris Gilman, Bruce Garrett and Donna Schatz opposed the selected site in December. Support came from Mayor Jim Lewis and council members Dick Ames, John Dodero and Bill Leep.

"Maybe we went sideways, but it's better than tearing the community apart over this issue," said Dodero. "We are the elected officers. We are there to speak for the people. There's a ... group of folks who think they speak for the people. The only way to resolve this is to put it on the ballot."

The citizens group will meet at 5 tonight in the Naversen Community Room of the Jacksonville Library. Garrett expects a group to study the Fifth Street site will be formed at that session.

"It was pretty clear the council was going against the wishes of the citizens," said Garrett. "It's a workable compromise."

Proximity to the majority of emergency services calls makes the Fifth Street site the preferred location, said Garrett. The other site is in a 500-year floodplain, he added.

A historic structure on the Fifth Street property would either need to be moved or demolished, said Paul Wyntergreen, city administrator. The lot is narrow and also would need a side lane for travel, he added.

City staff was directed to expend equal resources on exploration of both options, said Wyntergreen.

"We're not hiring an architect or getting consultants," said Wyntergreen. "I'd like to see the options developed as soon as possible so people can start mulling them over. "

Measures need to be submitted by Sept. 4 to quality for the Nov. 4 ballot.

A new public safety building is needed because the current fire station would be unsafe in an earthquake. The police station lacks proper security for evidence, city officials say.

The council will place sufficient funds in the coming fiscal year's budget to hire an architect once a site is selected, said Ames.

"We'll have community outreach from the public safety committee," said Ames. "We'll go door to door so people can't say we aren't informing the public."

Tony Boom is a freelance writer living in Ashland. Reach him at tboom8929@charter.net.