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City addressing need for larger police station

The city is looking into expanding its present police facility.

West Fargo City Commissioners gave their blessing Monday night to moving forward with preliminary plans for an enhanced police department and city hall complex authorizing City Administrator Jim Brownlee to pursue a general quote from a local architectural firm as to what an estimated expense figure might be.

Three options for the location were initially laid out: expanding at the present 800 4th Avenue East site, already owned by the city; separating city hall and moving the offices to the downtown revitalization area; or purchasing new, raw land elsewhere and building a city hall and police station together.

Mayor Rich Mattern said he felt strongly about not separating the two entities. "If anything I think we should have more centralization."

Police Chief Arland Rasmussen agreed, referencing figures compiled by Assistant Chief of Police Mike Reitan, with projections showing a future "build-out" of West Fargo at a population of approximately 46,000 people.

Right now the department has 38 officers, with two more to be added next year and a civilian staff of ten. With the projected increase, there would be a need for double the officers and triple in the civilian area.

Rasmussen said the department would prefer to see the police and city offices remain together, an opinion shared by all the commissioners, who felt it would allow for more efficient services and better communication all the way around.

"We would rather stay here. We think it is a benefit to the public. We know we can't consolidate everything but we (city staff and police) shouldn't separate more. It will be good for both areas and will help with communication."  

Rasmussen proposed moving east with a three-story, attached building on the almost one acre lot adjacent to the present facility to accommodate the expansion. He said this would equate to about 37,000 square feet of additional space plus 14,000 square feet of additional garage space for vehicles. "I know we probably won't need all this room off the bat, but it would probably be cheaper to build it now and just rough it in and leave some of it to complete later."

Rasmussen said the space would allow for an evidence room as well as collection room on the ground floor. "We would like people meeting each other and talking and not confined to individual space. We need to be able to be visible and see each other." He said this rule also applied to interaction between police and city staff. "This will result in a lot more understanding."

Fire and Police Commissioner Mike Thorstad agreed, saying "we have the property. I think it just makes good economic sense to do what we can do here and share resources where we can."

Brownlee told commissioners that he would like to contact an architect who could provide "a real quick quote" so the city has a general idea of expense for the work proposed. He projected the time for the whole process to get the ball rolling on actual construction to be about a year." The board authorized Brownlee to start the wheels in motion.

As far as funding, Brownlee said the city has a substantial amount set aside to begin the work.

Façade improvement plan

The commission also voiced approval for implementation of a new program for a façade grant/loan improvement program designed to encourage beautification in the Sheyenne Street and Main Avenue overlay corridor as recommended by city staff and presented by Director of Economic Development and Community Services Mark Vaux.

The program, already reviewed and approved by the West Fargo Economic Development Advisory Committee, would provide the use of public funds to leverage private investment for exterior façade improvements to all commercial properties located within the city's Sheyenne St. /Main Avenue overall corridor.

Vaux said the program is intended to encourage owners and business tenants of existing properties to restore or renovate their buildings, so as to improve the area's physical characteristics and enhance the aesthetics of the commercial environment as recommended by consultants in the Sheyenne Main Avenue study.

The program would be offered and administered through the city economic development office. Interested parties could apply for a zero percent loan/grant, not to exceed $20,000 for up to 50 percent of their investment. Additional Renaissance Zone incentives would be applicable if other capital/structural improvements are made to the property.

Interested applicants would have to submit an application to the economic development office and be in compliance before approval is granted. The 2013 budget contains $50,000 as a starting point for this participation program.

Tabled for more discussion

The meeting was also a night for tabling requests, with two delayed until further discussion can take place. The first was a request for a conditional use permit presented by Alisha Eveland, 426 4th Ave. E. that would allow for a childcare facility up to 18 children, she presently has seven.

The applicant intends to expand their driveway for additional parking and they are also required to build a solid board fence as requested by their neighbors to the back who also said there don't like the noise and don't want to put up with it. The fence has not yet gone up.

None of the parties involved were present at the meeting to address the matter.

Commissioner Duane Hanson said he wouldn't approve the CUP without the fence being up first, adding "it would be nice for people to show up" and be available to answer questions. "If they think we should rubber stamp this, they are sadly mistaken. I make a motion to table this until they show up, otherwise they can forget it."

Commissioner Mark Simmons said he too had some questions, adding he would like to see a compromise.

The commission voted 4-0 to support the tabled motion.

The second item tabled was a request from City Public Works Director Barry Johnson to review construction proposals and award bids for two city building projects, one for sanitation offices for $79,646 and the other for an equipment storage structure for $369,847.

Johnson said that city staff would be responsible for some of the remaining work not included in the bids that would involve sewer and water and building demolition.

Commissioner Hanson, who holds the sewer and water department portfolio, questioned whether the building plans were adequate and all-encompassing for future needs, also asking who was involved in discussing and formulating the specs. "Besides you and Jim (Brownlee) I'm not sure any of us have been consulted on the plans. You want us to approve this when we haven't had conversation whether or not this is the right building project? Is it the right amount of space? What will we do three years from now?

Johnson said city staff had been involved in the planning, which had been ongoing.

Hanson said he wasn't opposed to the proposal as long as it is deemed the right thing to do and everyone is in the know, again reiterating there had been no discussion.

On that note, it was agreed a meeting would be arranged with respective commission portfolio holders to address the entire matter before any formal action is taken.

Sales tax figures

reach record high

Commissioners also heard some really good news from Brownlee who announced that the city's sales tax figures for the month of August were at an all-time high at $367,441. The funds are the result of the city's one percent sales tax charged on any taxable sales in the city limits.

Brownlee said it is the brisk building cycle involving the high volume sale of construction materials that is spurring the increase. "By far this is the best month we've ever had," Brownlee stated, "with this year running 36 percent ahead of last year."

Last month's sales tax figures were $277,000. He said the second biggest month was way back in 2005 at $307,000, also in the height of an excellent construction season.

The sales tax dollars are restricted for use with infrastructure and economic development projects.

In other action, the commission:

-approved a resolution authorizing the issuance of improvement warrants, exchanging them for $37,600,000 of refunding improvement bonds of 2012 Series at a 2.94 interest rate over 25-years;

-favored a resolution for the issuance of $1,850,000 of sales tax revenue bonds of 2012 with the mayor and city administrator authorized to accept bids later this week for the 11-year issue;

-approved a change in ownership for the liquor license for Applebee's Neighborhood Grill, which will be moving into the old Ruby Tuesday location on 13th Avenue;

-following a public hearing on Street Improvement District No. 2224, involving overlay work in the Tintes Addition, adopted a resolution determining there were insufficient protests;

-approved the revised city of West Fargo Employee Personnel Policy Manual, with the only change affecting present employees and the reduction of time off for funeral leave from four to two days. The manual had been reviewed by department heads and human resource director Carmen Schroeder and will be distributed to employees on Sept. 1;

-heard from Mark Vaux regarding the guidelines suggested by city staff, and reviewed and approved by the West Fargo Economic Development Advisory Committee, to use when considering providing property tax incentives to those who might quality as prospects;

-okayed conditional use permits for two projects both in extraterritorial areas: an oversized accessory building owned by Jeff Olsen at 302 Ramona Avenue in Sunrise Acres Subdivision; and for an accessory building in an agriculturally zoned district for Al Pritchard at 1808 38th St. W.;.

-denied a land use amendment from office park to high density residential for an 8.39 acre parcel owned by Jordahl Custom Homes. The planning and zoning board recommended at their Aug. 13 meeting denying the application on the basis that the city's land use plan designates the subdivision area along 9th St. E. as office park development. The property is vacant and the area to the east and north has apartments;

-agreed to include a $.50 hike for 911 fees to the ballot in the November election for local citizens to vote on due to the increased cost of services;

--awarded the contract for the extension of sewer and water in Sewer, Water, Storm and Street Improvement District No. 1242 to Master Construction, Fargo, with their low bid of $402,811. City Engineer Kevin Bucholz recommended that the board not accept the bid because of problems experienced in the past with Master on a variety of city projects. A representative from the company was present to address the commission, saying they had made amends on most of the prior projects and continued to work toward that end. He assured the board that this present project would be completed on time and correctly. Commissioner Simmons said he felt the board would be sending the wrong message if they went against the city engineer's recommendation. Mayor Mattern and Commissioners Hanson and Thorstad, all said they would agree to give Master Construction "one last chance." Consequently, the board voted 3-1 to award the bid, with Simmons voicing the opposing vote.

The next regularly scheduled meeting of the West Fargo City Commission will take place Tuesday, Sept. 4, instead of Monday, Sept. 3, because of the Labor Day holiday. The meeting will be held at 5:30 p.m. in the Commission Chamber at West Fargo City Hall, 800 4th Ave. E. All meetings are open to the public.