Will taxes go up to pay for new Belleville Police HQ?

News-DemocratNovember 30, 2013 

— The Belleville City Hall and Police Department buildings need improvements, and the city might need to raise its levy to pay for these projects, Mayor Mark Eckert said.

Eckert said remodeling City Hall, and building or finding a new facility for police headquarters, is one of the main goals of his current term, which ends in 2017.

"My goal is to be aggressive," Eckert said. "We'll start the process in 2014 and I don't want it to take three years."

Eckert said City Hall does not meet today's Americans with Disabilities Act standards and lacks the space to house a larger workforce than when City Hall was built in 1957.

Police Department employees are spread across four buildings -- a management and work efficiency issue -- and the station's parking lot currently puts cars onto a one-way street, which is also a challenge for police work, Eckert said.

Within the police station, employees have dealt with problems that range from roof leaks and heating and cooling disparities to transporting those in custody up flights of stairs because of a lack of elevator access.

In August, the city approved $96,247 in tax increment financing funds to pay the Lawrence Group to study the buildings at 101 S. Illinois St. in downtown Belleville.

The city awaits results of the consultant firm's feasibility study, which will provide cost options for renovation versus constructing new landmarks or buying existing buildings.

Eckert said the city could use TIF funds for city building improvements but TIF District No. 3, which nets about $7 million for the city each year, will expire in 2021.

The city's budget has a $1 million boost since the loans for the Parks and Recreation Department on West Main Street, the new Fire Engine House 4 and the Whitey Herzog Field in Citizens Park are paid off.

But without TIF 3 revenue, the city might have to raise taxes to pay off any loans for future renovations, Eckert said.

Eckert said he hopes to have the support of council to fund the City Hall and police station improvements.

"Nobody's gonna want to levy anything, extend a TIF, increase a sales tax, to pay for the bond," Eckert said. "It's so easy to vote no ... but give me the alternative solutions."

Meanwhile, police administrators say the police staff continues to work in unfavorable conditions.

On a recent tour of the Police Department buildings, Assistant Police Chief James Spargur and Police Capt. Don Sax showed the News-Democrat the following:

* Damage to ceiling tiles, walls and plaster: The roof has leaked for years, including in Police Chief Bill Clay and Spargur's offices. Because of the frequency of the leaks, the city stopped getting new tiles and patches and paints over the problem areas instead.

"It's just a chasing-a-tail type of thing," Spargur said of the water leaks. "They chase it. They fix it. It goes somewhere else."

* Heating and cooling issues: In the winter months, Spargur needs a space heater because the radiator in his office does not work well while Sax runs a fan because it gets too hot in his office next door.

*Overnight holding cells on the second floor: Some of the cells are directly above the sergeant's desk. When those in custody repeatedly flush toilets or otherwise block the toilets, the cells flood and water drips through to the sergeant's desk.

* Safety in interacting with prisoners: Officers have to take those in custody from the garage on the ground floor up two flights of stairs to the booking area.

If those in custody are held overnight, they have to be taken up another few flights of stairs to overnight cells.

Spargur said it's a safety issue because sometimes those in custody are intoxicated or combative, and officers struggle to get them up stairs without injury.

The intake room where officers process fingerprints and mug shots or administer Breathalyzer tests is hidden from the view of the desk sergeant.

Spargur said it would be safer for officers to be in the view of the officer in charge in case the person in custody "acts up."

* Broken windows: The building shakes when trucks drive by and many of the windows don't stay up or lack screens. One officer keeps three wood blocks of varying heights to customize how much a window is open.

* No public access or meeting space: The Police Administration offices in the annex are closed to the public because there is no elevator.

The department's "conference room," which has a table with six chairs, also serves as offices for five officers, and as a break room and storage area for everyone.

Because the public cannot access the annex and the annex does not have room to host a larger crowd anyway, the police chief holds group meetings in the City Hall Council Chambers or at the new firehouse.

* Lack of space: Filing cabinets are placed wherever there is room. Evidence is stored in eight separate vaults in four different buildings. There is not enough parking for all 82 sworn officers and 25 civilian staffers. The building is not set up in a way to be wired for technology.

* Crime scene processing in the basement: Police detective Ray Proksha, one of the city's three crime scene technicians, works in a space the size of a walk-in closet.

Proksha said it would be ideal to work in a centralized location on the ground floor so that evidence does not have to be carted up and down steps.

He said the unit would also benefit from having a secure, enclosed area where technicians could process vehicles and a walk-in freezer for biohazard evidence.

* Limited bathrooms: More than 50 male patrol officers share a locker room that has one shower, two urinals and one bathroom stall. The women's locker room, for about 12 officers, also has one shower.

Contact reporter Jacqueline Lee at jlee@bnd.com or 239-2655. Follow her on Twitter at https://twitter.com/BNDBelleville.

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