Last August, the motor in my trusty Buick gave out after more than eight years and nearly 200,000 miles of service. The cost of replacing the motor would have been higher than the value of the car, so I took advantage of a sale offer and financed a new car over five years at zero interest. The consequences of driving a car until it is unreliable include a higher chance of being stranded along the road and increasing maintenance costs.
Albany’s downtown fire station, Station 11, is more than 60 years old and was not designed to accommodate the equipment or staffing the City requires today. Its most significant failing is that it does not meet seismic standards and would be likely to collapse when we have a sizable earthquake. Housing your emergency staff and equipment in a building that is unlikely to survive a communitywide emergency is not responsible when you have a choice. Like my Buick, the cost of renovating the building to meet current standards and address its many failings is higher than the cost of building a station that meets our needs. Replacing Station 11 has been listed as a Fire Department priority for more than 20 years and is included in the City’s Capital Improvement Program and Strategic Plan.
The Albany Police Department is housed in a building that was designed for a staff of 47 people, most of whom had no access to a computer. The facility has a little over 10,500 square feet of space, although that does not include a small modular unit that houses the Department’s detectives. Today, there are nearly 90 employees, all of whom rely on computers to assist with their work. The increased staffing and work station needs are a response to community growth and an increasingly complex criminal justice system. By comparison, the Sweet Home Police Station, built in 2002, is nearly the same size as Albany’s, while Lebanon’s new station has more than 25,000 square feet. Building a new Albany station has been listed as a City priority for at least the last decade.
The advantage of building both the Fire and Police Stations now is that the costs of doing so are likely to be substantially less than if the projects are delayed. Interest rates are at historic lows, and the City has reserved a large amount of the costs from a legal settlement in 2010. Additionally, debts that were incurred in the 1990s for street improvements and fire substations are about to be retired, which means that property taxpayers would see no increase in taxes if they choose to finance the new stations.
Several decisions need to be made before either project can proceed. The City Council will hear a presentation on a financial plan at their August 12 work session, and they will soon decide whether or not to present a proposal to the voters in November. The Council will appropriately consider many factors before deciding what to do; but, in my opinion, the need for new police and fire stations is not in question.
My old Buick died at a relatively good time and place, allowing me to replace it at a reasonable price. We really can’t afford to take the same chances with our emergency facilities when we consider what is at stake.