To build or not to build: DeKalb City Council holds joint meeting to discuss police department expansion

By Jason Pfrommer

The DeKalb City Council and the Finance Advisory Committee held a special joint meeting Monday at the DeKalb Municipal Building, 200 S. Fourth St., to discuss the financing options available for the construction of a new police station.

Members of the meeting discussed whether or not the city has the means to allow the construction of a stand-alone police station or if the current police station within the municipal building will be expanded. The sizes of the facilities discussed ranged from 34,500 square feet to 56,000 square feet.

Steve Irving of Irving Construction, 1826 Sycamore Road, said 34,500 square feet was the result of trying to renovate the current location of the police station on the same grounds as DeKalb’s Municipal Building, and not the result of any previous studies based on the size of current police facilities.

DeKalb Police Chief Bill Feithen pushed for the city to approve the construction of a stand-alone police department that would be located off of West Lincoln Highway, at a size of 56,000 square feet.

“There’s nothing in any text book that says a police station has to be connected to a city building,” Feithen said.

Feithen said having a station on West Lincoln Highway would make more sense because most of the calls received at the station happen north of the railroad tracks. Since the trains can make tracks impassable for almost six hours a day, it becomes increasingly difficult to have a police presence on the opposite side.

Many of the committee members agreed that the building should be located as a stand-alone structure on West Lincoln Highway, rather than conjoined to the DeKalb Municipal Building, but a consensus on the facility’s size was not made.

City Manager Mark Biernacki said if the building were going up, it would be more beneficial to create it at 56,000 square feet, as it would compensate for the additions the building would need in the future.

Fourth Ward Alderman Brendon Gallagher said the city’s current financial troubles may affect the plans for the building.

“I don’t know if we can afford to plan for the future,” Gallagher said. “We don’t want to bite off more than we can chew.”

Members of the meeting said they would like to see a compromise with a facility created that was somewhere between the 34,000 and 56,000 square feet originally offered.

Mike Peddle, chair of DeKalb Finance Advisory Committee, said the council’s current decisions have not made an impact. Peddle said if the council decides upon a 34,000 square foot facility, it will not be enough to satisfy the needs of the community or the police force.

The budget for the new police station is still under discussion. Sixth Ward Alderman Dave Baker said until a definite budget could be laid out, it would be difficult to decide how big the new facility would be and how the project would be funded.

City council members were able to establish a few ideas on how the facility would be paid for and where the money would ultimately come from. Ideas included a two cent gas tax, foregoing a water tax increase for Fiscal Year 2012, using general funds and taking $400,000 tax relief from the state.

“I think the gas tax is the most fare way to do it. If we bring in that… two cent gas tax, we can take the weight off the homeowner.” said First Ward Alderman David Jacobson.

Third Ward Alderwoman Kristen Lash said the gas tax increase would not hurt the city so much as it would bring in more revenue from the DeKalb Oasis, located off of I-88.

Baker said he would like to see the authorization of a bond come through at the next meeting.

However, Biernacki said an architectural concept had to be drawn up and it would be about a year before any bonds were authorized.