AUGUSTA — A proposal to build a new police station will be delayed by a rash of resignations from the Augusta City Council.

The city charter requires any proposal to borrow funds through a bond — as would be required to pay for a new police station — be approved by an affirmative vote of at least six members of the council, including the mayor.

With the number of members of the council, including Mayor David Rollins, depleted to just six members total by two recent and one pending resignation of councilors, that would mean all those members would have to vote unanimously to approve a bond to build a new police station.

City Manager William Bridgeo said that while most or possibly all the current councilors seem to support the idea of building a new police station to replace the worn-out leaky current station, there is no consensus on a key component of the project — where the station should be built.

Some councilors have spoken in favor of building a new station next to the current one on Union Street. Others, however, have advocated for building a new station downtown on a site now covered by the so-called Apgar building near the corner of Water and Laurel streets, where they said it could help bring economic development and help deter crime in that part of the city.

“It hasn’t gotten past me that there is some significant difference of opinion on this particular issue,” Bridgeo said recently. “And I doubt that, all things being as we think they are now, there would be a unanimous vote one way or another.

“Also, this is a big decision for the community,” he added. “So it is probably prudent to slow the process down and wait until the first of the year when you’ll have nine council members to make a final decision.”

Police Chief Jared Mills said Wednesday officers are disappointed in the delay but understand the reason for it. He said they also understand the delay does not mean councilors don’t want the city to build a new police station, they just don’t necessarily agree where it should be built.

“The overall mood (of officers) is, obviously, of disappointment, because they’d like this as quickly as possible,” Mills said. “But they are also a very logical group, a great group of men and women, so they understand.

“That’s not going to take away from the disappointment, but it’s not like we’re receiving the news they no longer support the police department,” he added. “My understanding is they’re all in favor of a new police department, it’s just a matter of where, the existing site or downtown.”

Mills said he agrees with the decision to delay the process until the council is back up to full membership when there would be more likelihood at least six councilors will vote in favor of borrowing money to build a new station at one of the two proposed locations.

In the city’s latest five-year capital improvement plan, Bridgeo proposed to build a new station at a cost estimated to be between $8 million and $10 million.

City councilors, who discussed the issue at their last meeting, said they feel bad about the project being delayed but hope doing so will result in a better, more well-thought out project.

“I feel bad for being one component of what has lead to this delay,” said At-Large Councilor Corey Wilson, one of the three councilors who submitted their resignation letters within a month’s time. “However, I think it’s going to be for the best. It felt like this was starting to get rushed, and there were still a lot of unanswered questions, and that’s not the way to go about spending a substantial amount of money.

“I hope this isn’t a morale breaker for (police),” he added. “Because at the end of the day, I think they’ll end up in a better location, perhaps, and with a better design. I’d ask them to be patient.”

Once the council is back at full membership in January 2020, Bridgeo said, if councilors come to a consensus on building a new police station, a special election for a referendum vote by residents on whether to borrow funds for the project could take place as early as February.

Mills said even with the delay a new station could still be built within the same rough time frame envisioned when the proposal was first discussed, with completion expected in 2021 or 2022.

Problems with the current 1940s-era station include a deteriorating exterior that has reached the end of its life expectancy, a leaky roof, inadequate ventilation, undrinkable water, windows that are failing and a lack of security. It also has numerous areas that wouldn’t meet modern building codes, including a requirement the building meet specific “Category 4” codes required of essential public safety buildings.

Mills said the major concern now is the roof, which leaks when it rains and during the winter as snow and ice melt. He said engineers who’ve looked at the building have indicated it does not present any current safety concerns. He said it’s a nuisance, and officers have to take steps to protect equipment inside from water leaking through the roof.

City councilors are scheduled, Thursday, to consider authorizing the use of an additional $50,000 from a previously approved capital improvement program fund to pay for architectural engineering and other services needed to continue working on the police department proposal.

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