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Joint LEC in jeopardy: County pulls out of plan

Dispatchers for the Douglas County Sheriff's Office and the Alexandria Police Department may end up in two separate locations. Dispatchers, including Keith Polipnick (front) and Marilyn Peterson (back), answer 911 calls, as well as other calls that come in for the two agencies. Echo Press photos by Celeste Beam

The idea of a new joint law enforcement center (LEC) coming to fruition appears to be dead in the water.

At Tuesday's regular Douglas County Board meeting, commissioners voted 3-2 to not move forward on the joint LEC project.

The city of Alexandria and Douglas County have been working together on a proposed joint LEC that would be located at the site of the new Douglas County Jail. The project was estimated to cost nearly $12 million with the county's portion at about $6.3 million and the city's portion at about $5.6 million.

Commissioner Jerry Johnson said, "We have discussed this. The board voted to discuss this. I think we have a lot to discuss, but they want an answer. If they are set on going ahead, I would like to make a motion that we don't move forward."

What Johnson was referring to was a letter presented by Jim Taddei, Alexandria city administrator, at Tuesday's meeting, which read, "On a split vote, the city council directed me [Taddei] to contact the Douglas County Board of Commissioners to inform them that the city council requests a decision be made by October 1, if the county is willing to do the joint venture with the city."

Taddei addressed the commissioners about the city's request, saying that he was "just the messenger," but that he was asking them to take the request under advisement.

Commissioner Norm Salto seconded Johnson's motion, but asked for discussion before a vote was taken.

Commissioner Dan Olson spoke up, saying that he didn't want to see the county "stop dead" on the project.

"I would hate to see us, the two departments, stop working together after we have worked so well together," Olson said. "I know it's a tough time to do this right now, but either way, we will end up spending money."

Olson continued by saying that he would hate to see the county spend money on the current LEC, when it's old and needs a lot of work.

"Do we want to stick millions into this building?" Olson asked the other commissioners. "I think we are making a snap decision on something we don't have the numbers on. We don't know how much it's going to take to fix up this old building. I think we would be doing ourselves a disservice."

Bev Bales, chair of the county commissioners, retorted, "They are giving us an ultimatum."

She also noted that she would like to see the joint LEC move forward, but with what the commissioners were presented with - the letter from the city - she couldn't see the project move forward because "people don't have money."

"The money just isn't there," she stated. "I think we can get by for now and then look at this again in a couple of years."

Commissioner Paul Anderson voiced his concerns by stating, "We would be taking two steps backward, back to the George McKay days."

He was referring to when the city police and the county sheriff office had separate locations and then worked hard to get to the point where they are now - in a joint facility.

Anderson said he also wanted the county to look closer at the option of paying interest only on the project. He feels it would help with the financing issues.

Salto asked Taddei if the city budgeted for this project, to which he replied, "No."

Taddei then told Salto that the city has two options - to move forward jointly with the county or do it alone.

The city has issues and concerns with space needs for its evidence.

At a previous joint meeting between the city and the county, Alexandria Police Chief Rick Wyffels said that currently, the city is not in compliance with state standards when it comes to evidence because of space restrictions at the current location.

"It makes sense to go together. But, Mr. Reddick, we don't have it [the money] do we?" Salto asked Tom Reddick, the county's auditor/treasurer.

"That is correct," Reddick answered.

Salto then said he was not in favor of the interest only option because he feels it's similar to when someone maxes out his/her credit card.

He asked Taddei if the city could just wait.

"I can't give you an answer," replied Taddei. "But I wish I could."

"We have got to shut it off," Salto said of spending money. "We can't afford this. We just can't afford to do this right now."

Olson, who feels strongly about moving forward with the joint LEC project, said it's a double-edge sword because the county does not know what it would cost to update the current LEC.

"I think we are being irresponsible to put money into that building," Olson said.

Johnson spoke up and said, "The city has asked us for a decision by October 1. There is no money in this budget. We can't do this for 2010. We can't afford it. Things will look better in 2012. The answer for right now is that we simply can't do this."

A vote was then taken with Bales, Salto and Johnson in favor of not moving forward with the project. Anderson and Olson voted against the motion.

After the vote was taken, Douglas County Sheriff Troy Wolbersen asked the chair if he could address the board.

He told the commissioners he was disappointed with how the vote turned out. With all the hard work that went into combining the two law enforcement agencies, Wolbersen said, "Now with one vote, it's all gone."

Wolbersen said that it was his understanding that since the beginning, when talks began on a new joint center, the plan was to demolish the old facility. He said this is a project that has been worked on since 2002.

He told commissioners there are many updates that need to be done at the current LEC and that he was asking the board for direction on what he should do.

Wolbersen explained that the current LEC needs new carpeting, new windows, major roof repairs, heating and cooling work and that the building needed a sprinkler system to bring it up to code, along with other items.

Commissioner Bales told Wolbersen, "Yes, there are things that have been neglected that probably shouldn't have been."

She said a committee would be formed to figure out what the needs of the facility would be so that the county could move forward on that project.

Johnson said that he believes the city could still have the option to hold off on the joint LEC project and simply wait for the county.

"We simply can't proceed now because of lack of funds. I think the city understands that," he concluded.