There is much to like about the $33.4 million Norwich Police Headquarters proposal that city voters will be asked to approve on Election Day, except the price. The project would make a creative reuse of the former Sears building downtown, across from the Otis Library. The presence of a new police station would add a sense of security and rejuvenation, benefitting the city's efforts to encourage revitalization of the downtown by attracting more apartments, offices and retail shops.
It appears city officials did their homework and plan a facility that will meet all modern policing needs now and well into the future. No longer would Norwich police have to send officers to other towns for training, but instead host training sessions, with the city benefitting from the economic activity.
And there is no question the city needs a new police station to replace the facility on Thames Street, arguably insufficient when it opened in 1979 and woefully inadequate now. Having only eight cells forces police to release prisoners who otherwise would remain incarcerated until their court appearances. The existing station does not have enough interview rooms and is too small to accommodate the officers and support staff. We recognize that if police cannot do their jobs well, the community suffers.
But countering all those positives is that very big price tag. That is much to ask, too much we feel, of a distressed community in which many families and senior citizens are struggling to pay their taxes and bills and often can't afford to borrow the money they would like to spend on improvements.
The burden of paying off the project's 20-year bonds would quickly peak at $124 in additional taxes in year four for a home assessed at $100,000. Over the life of the bond that home owner could expect to pay about $1,800 in additional taxes to pay for the station.
City officials argue those costs are a worst-case scenario. Construction bids are often coming in low due to the slow economy. Interest rates are at historic lows, making it a great time to build. Norwich's debt service is extremely low for a city its size. And Norwich may obtain federal and/or state grants to reduce the cost paid by city taxpayers.
But the bottom line remains too expensive. We recognize police stations are costly to build, but the cost for this project is boosted by the inclusion of an adjacent three-level parking garage, which while nice may be a luxury given economic circumstances. The city also must pay $2.6 million to acquire the property. The planned 29 cells, 3.6 times the current number, are arguably a case of going from one extreme to another.
The Day suggests a no vote on the question and, if the measure is defeated, urges city officials to return with a more cost-effective proposal.