AUGUSTA — City councilors voted to set aside $550,000 to start work on a proposal to build a new police station within the next five years.

Councilors and staff members said the floors of the department’s current Union Street building aren’t level, the bathrooms are disgusting, the roof leaks, the heating system is unable to keep up with winter’s cold, its water isn’t used for drinking because of lead pipes and the wiring is outdated and original to the 1940 building.

City officials said the best place for a new station might be on land that is now a parking lot next to the existing station. But City Manager William Bridgeo said Thursday downtown advocates approached him this week after learning the station might be replaced to suggest the city consider putting it downtown.

The Police Department’s current home, a former Navy reserve building, has so many infrastructure needs — including a new roof, wiring and plumbing throughout — that it would cost millions to renovate and update.

Bridgeo proposed in the city’s latest five-year capital improvement plan to build a replacement station at an estimated cost of $8.55 million.

City councilors authorized the initial funding to get that process started Thursday in a unanimous vote.

“The building is in a pretty bad state of repair by any stretch,” said At-large Councilor Corey Wilson. “It’s far more than lipstick on a pig. The building is in really bad shape. The key thing for me is the floors are extremely unlevel — that alone would be an extreme expense. The electrical system is extremely outdated. One officer is working in an office with no ceiling. The building is really just a dump at this point.”

On Thursday, councilors approved a proposal to set aside $550,000 for the project, $339,000 of that funding left over from prior years’ capital improvement projects — including $200,000 for the new roof for that same building — and the rest to be borrowed through a bond also authorized by a vote of councilors Thursday.

Bridgeo said the only money that would be spent before a proposal to build a new station goes to voters, however, would be about $50,000. That would pay for an assessment and preliminary conceptual design, Bridgeo said, enough work so the city would have a better idea of what the project could cost before going to voters.

A referendum on the building proposal is expected in the fall of 2019. Bridgeo said the remaining $500,000 of the $550,000 set aside by councilors Thursday wouldn’t be spent until residents approve of building a new station. He said having the money set aside now would mean it would be available to be spent on the project to move ahead with it soon after voters approve of the project, if they do.

“It’s crazy to spend a half-million dollars on something if it’s not going to be approved by voters,” Bridgeo said.

Councilors approved the proposal, as part of several capital improvement plan-related funding proposals they approved, together totaling $4.1 million and including improvements to facilities including Hatch Hill landfill, the Augusta Civic Center and the public works facility.

Of that total, about $1.6 million in projects would go to voters for approval in a referendum question this November.

Mayor David Rollins said he’s concerned the city is funding infrastructure projects but is not putting enough effort, or money, into economic development.

He said councilors have economic development as one of their goals, but the city has taken little to no action toward encouraging economic development, and city-owned properties such as Kennebec Locke, the former site of Statler Tissue alongside the Kennebec River, sit undeveloped.

He said the city economic development staff has told councilors if the city had land ready for development, there would likely be interest in those properties; but city-owned sites haven’t been readied for development.

“The economic development of this town to me is equal to the need to maintain facilities,” Rollins said. “I’m going to challenge all of us, the city manager, us, the council. We’ve got to start taking a more proactive approach to getting some of these sites developed.”

Bridgeo said all capital improvement program work up for consideration by councilors Thursday could be done without requiring an increase in taxes. Most of them would be funded by revenue collected in Tax Increment Financing districts the city established over the last several years, accumulating revenue from taxes on natural gas pipelines and the Marketplace at Augusta, for example, to pay for infrastructure improvements in the city.

The police station would not be paid for by TIF proceeds because, Bridgeo said, building a police station isn’t an allowable use of TIF funds under state law. But he said enough debt would be paid off on other items by the time the city would be starting the project that the debt required to build a police station could be paid off without raising property taxes.

Keith Edwards — 621-5647

[email protected]

Twitter: @kedwardskj

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