WATERVILLE — City councilors on Tuesday debated whether to build a new police station now or start the process and bond for most of it later.

Councilor Charles “Fred” Stubbert Jr., D-Ward 1, insisted now is the time to do it.

“If we defer this, it isn’t going to get done because costs will be high and we won’t be able to afford it,” Stubbert said.

The discussion started Tuesday at a public hearing on capital improvements. City Manager Michael Roy said the city plans to borrow $2.95 million, with $1.5 of that for library renovations; $110,000 for fire truck repair; $375,000 for improvements to Campus Drive; $300,000, Opera House renovations; $415,000 for public works equipment; and $250,000 for Quarry Road Recreation Area.

If the proposed $36.6 million school and municipal budget for 2011-12 is approved, residents will be looking at a 75-cent tax increase. In other words, the tax rate would increase from $24.15 per $1,000 worth of valuation to $24.90.

Stubbert, who is on the facilities committee for the Opera House, recommended Tuesday that the city raise $200,000 more for renovation and restoration of the Opera House, making the total $500,000.

Roy recommended setting a timetable for getting the police station out of the basement of City Hall where city officials say the department is old and cramped and poses a safety issue with an unsecured lobby where people come and go, including those who are being arrested.

Roy recommended a “three-year horizon” in which city officials find a site for a new police station, hire a firm to design it and then come back to the council for approval and funding — and borrow for both a police station and road improvements at the same time.

The estimated cost for a new police station is $2 million; road improvements would cost about $1 million, he said.

Stubbert insisted a police station be built as soon as possible and that the city not wait two or three years.

“Costs are low, people are hungry, bids are coming in low and now’s the time for doing construction,” he said.

Prices for everything will soon increase, and waiting two or three years should not be an option, he said.

“It’s a risk we should not take.”

But Councilor John O’Donnell, D-Ward 5, stopped Stubbert in mid-sentence, saying the city already is facing some big costs.

“Fred, we’re already raising taxes, my friend,” O’Donnell said.

Police Chief Joseph Massey said he has been involved in three or four police station studies in the last 15 years and each one resulted in a recommendation that a station needs to be built. Each year, however, the project gets pushed back, Massey said. Meanwhile, he said, police officials continue to work in an antiquated and inadequate space.

“They do a great job and they work in a terrible, terrible environment,” he said. “To me, it becomes a risk management issue, working in an old department…”

Massey said he fears that in three to five years, the project will again be pushed back.

Councilor Karen Rancourt-Thomas, D-Ward 7, agreed with Stubbert that now is the time to start on a new police station, with construction costs low.

“This is a gift horse we’re looking at,” she said. “I think we should take it and put it on.”

Councilors are expected to take a first vote on the proposed budget next week.

Amy Calder — 861-9247

[email protected]

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