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Home arrow Opinion arrow Editorials arrow City can get by without building

City can get by without building

Just three and half years ago, Baker City officials decided the best place to station police officers, who then worked at City Hall, was the fire department.

Today, city officials say, that's the worst place.

This sort of thing happens sometimes when city managers, fire chiefs and police chiefs move on.

None of the administrators responsible for moving the police department out of City Hall in 2004 still works here.

But that trio — City Manager Jerry Gillham, Police Chief Bob Mason and Fire Chief Tim Frost — bequeathed to its successors a bit of a dilemma.

Today's officials — City Manager Steve Brocato, Police Chief Wyn Lohner and Fire Chief Jim Price — contend the co-habitation has created a mess.

The Public Safety Building, which opened in 1981 and was designed as a fire department only, isn't big enough to house police, too, officials say.

There's neither a separate entrance nor a waiting room for crime victims. Instead they have to walk through several corridors; that's a minor matter to some people but it can constitute an ordeal for victims of sexual abuse, rape or other crimes.

Firefighters, who gave up about 36 percent of their floor space to the police department, have much less room for training. Also, the building is not as comfortable as it used to be for firefighters, who, unlike most employees, don't just work at their office but also eat and sleep there during their 24-hour shifts.

Put simply, the advantages Gillham touted in 2004 — "I think there are long-term benefits to the city in terms of creating cohesive teamwork and camaraderie," he said then — have been outweighed by the crowding that inevitably results when you move about 17 workers into a building that used to accommodate about 13.

This is a problem.

The question the City Council must answer, then, is whether Brocato and Lohner's solution to that problem — spend an estimated $716,000 to buy and remodel an office building a few blocks to the east and move the police department there — is the best solution.

We don't think it is.

Buying the building at 1768 Auburn is the best solution if money doesn't matter.

But taxpayers' dollars are on the table, so money does matter.

Brocato says the city can afford the building. We believe him.

But just because the city can buy that building is hardly reason to write the check.

We believe the city can deal with the problems at the Public Safety Building — in a way that ensures the public receives the level of service it deserves, and employees have the amenities they deserve — and spend considerably less than three-quarters of a million dollars.

The simplest, and cheapest, solution might be to move the police department back to City Hall.

Overcrowding apparently wasn't a major hassle there in 2004 — at any rate, that wasn't one of the reasons city officials cited for sending police over to the fire department.

The police department has about three more employees now than it did then, but the city no longer employs an on-site, full-time attorney, so the number of employees working at City Hall would be almost the same.

Returning the police department to City Hall might require remodeling, but the work would cost far less than $716,000. Nor would the city have to pay interest, as it would if, as Brocato recommends, the city borrows money to buy the Auburn Avenue building.

The problems at the Public Safety Building which Brocato, Lohner and Price have enumerated are real, and we applaud city officials for trying to deal with those problems.

A particularly compelling issue is Lohner's assertion that the Public Safety Building is not an inviting place for crime victims. The city should strive to ensure that such victims, who often have to discuss intimate details with investigators during interviews, do not suffer any more than is necessary.

But we're not convinced that the only way the city can achieve that goal is to buy a building at a price that's almost half the police department's annual budget.

 
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