Kent might ask voters for new police headquarters

Kent Police Chief Ken Thomas says crowded conditions at police headquarters has led to dividers installed in the middle of hallways to help create more desk space. - STEVE HUNTER, Kent Reporter
Kent Police Chief Ken Thomas says crowded conditions at police headquarters has led to dividers installed in the middle of hallways to help create more desk space.
— image credit: STEVE HUNTER, Kent Reporter

The Kent City Council might ask voters to approve construction of a new police headquarters with a property tax increase.

Police Chief Ken Thomas asked the council at a workshop last week to pass a resolution by July 15 to put the measure on the Nov. 4 ballot. The council has yet to set a date to vote on whether to send the proposal to voters.

Voters would be asked to approve a $30 million bond to be paid over 20 years. The property tax rate would be 16 cents per $1,000 assessed value or about $48 per year for a $300,000 home, according to Paula Barry, interim city finance director. The bond measure would require 60 percent voter approval.

"We're in a building that's an old library that was remodeled over 20 years ago to be a temporary location until we built a new police station," Thomas said to the council about the police department's move in 1991 from City Hall. "At that  time we had about 65 officers. We need more capacity for more police officers to do an even better job. We're putting people in a lot of areas and we're still 20 officers below where we are going to be."

Kent's expected to have 160 officers by 2016. The current station was remodeled in 1991 to handle about 75 officers.

"The theory is we would tear this building down and build at the same location," Thomas said during an interview at the 19,000-square-foot building next to City Hall along Fourth Avenue South.

The new, two-story building would be about 48,000 square feet. Officers would be housed at several temporary locations during construction, which could take 12 to 18 months.

"The new building would allow for the flexibility and opportunity to better serve the community," Thomas said.

Several council members backed Thomas' proposal at the workshop.

"Quite frankly, as a city we're better than that," Councilman Jim Berrios said about the cramped conditions and the fact that detectives are housed in a separate building because of the lack of space. "It's embarrassing to see the conditions some of these officers have to work with. I get it's budget issues but there comes a time where we need to prepare ourselves and not just to get it to where they can be comfortable now but prepare us for 20 years from now."

Previous police chiefs Steve Strachan and Ed Crawford each tried to get a new headquarters built. A few studies were done, but the most recent proposal by Strachan several years ago got pushed back when the recession hit.

"I think it needs to be said the police department has done a fantastic job shoehorning themselves in that building and doing it with a smile on their face for many, many years," Councilman Dennis Higgins said. "They recognized the budget situations they were in. Now that we have Panther Lake and are ramping up our number of officers, they have waited long enough."

Because of the tight space, some employees work at desks set up with dividers installed in the middle of a hallway. Crews converted a closet to an office. An evidence room is housed in City Hall.

About $800,000 of the bond would be used to pay to rewire and re-plumb the city jail along Central Avenue.

"If we do that we can pretty much guarantee ourselves another 30 years out of the building," Thomas said about the jail.

Funds also would be spent to have several more cells to handle inmates with mental health issues. The jail has six holding cells but only one is set up to properly handle the mentally ill with what's called a crisis cell. More than half of the inmates have mental health issues, Thomas said.

Thomas added funds also would be spent to increase capacity at the police firearm and vehicle training range.

Tom Brubaker, the city's interim chief administrative officer, said police need a new headquarters.

"Our police officers are broken up in a number of buildings and in the current building they're just simply stepping on each others feet it's too darn tight and crowded," Brubaker said at the workshop. "The time has come to put these guys into a new building."

The city will conduct an initial phone survey with voters to gauge awareness of a need for a new police station and how many might support the proposal.

"There is no awareness out there now, so we need to get that awareness going," Higgins said.

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