AUGUSTA — Voters overwhelmingly agreed to borrow $20.5 million to build a new police station, in a 717 to 133 vote Tuesday night.

City Manager William Bridgeo said the results, which are unofficial, affirm the support the city’s police force has in Augusta.

“A landslide in support of our police officers,” Bridgeo said in an email.

A concept rendering for the proposed Willow Street site of a new Augusta Police Department station. Image courtesy of Artifex Architects & Engineers/Manns Woodward Studios

The proposed new station, which would be built on Willow Street at the site of a former Hannaford supermarket across the Kennebec River from Water Street, would replace the city’s current Union Street station. The Union Street station is a former Naval reserve building built in the 1940s. The department moved into over two decades ago.

Problems with the existing police station include a leaky roof; not meeting current critical facility building code standards; no drinkable water due to lead contamination in the pipes; bathrooms and locker rooms have rotted flooring and rusty stalls; inadequate heat; security problems due to a lack of separation between public, semipublic and restricted areas; a dispatch center with no room to expand; no centrally located evidence holding room; and a need for secure parking.

The new site is just across Cony Street from Augusta City Center and across Willow Street from the Inn at City Hall, which was the police department’s home before it moved to the Union Street site.

Police Chief Jared Mills said work will commence immediately on moving the project forward. He said the preliminary timeline is to send out a request for proposals to build the station this year and break ground by early next year.

“Even with the condition of the building we are in, we have always felt appreciated and had faith that this day would come where we would get a proper facility,” Mills said Wednesday morning. “The strong approval of the bond question only confirms what we are already feeling, that the overwhelming majority of folks who took the time to vote decisively approved this project.”

The Willow Street property is currently owned by sisters through a corporation, JOFKAM CO., and in May councilors authorized Bridgeo and city attorney Stephen Langsdorf to enter into negotiations to purchase the site, which has been listed at a sales price of $2.2 million.

Langsdorf said last week the city has made an offer for the Willow Street property and was waiting for a response.

Four years remain on a lease Hannaford has with the owners for the building there. The supermarket chain had a store at that location before a new Hannaford was built up the hill, at the site of the former Cony High School. The company does not use the building now.

City officials anticipate Hannaford officials are likely willing to pay the city to get out of the remaining time of that lease, further reducing the city’s costs to build a new station there.

Langsdorf said the city will purchase the property and will receive the present value, as negotiated, of the Hannaford lease. He said the total the city will pay after netting out the Hannaford lease will be considerably less than the $1.8 million budgeted for land acquisition in the bond referendum.

The proposal approved by residents Tuesday authorizes city officials to bond $20.5 million to build the station. Over the 25-year payback period, at an estimated interest rate of 1.7%, interest on that bond would be about $5.2 million.

Bridgeo said the new station can be built without increasing property taxes.

That’s because the city’s bond payments would start at about the same time as a longstanding tax increment financing, or TIF, deal for the Marketplace at Augusta expires in 2023.

The expiration of that pact, Bridgeo said, would bring an infusion of about $1.8 million a year into the city’s general fund. He said that would more than cover the cost of the bond payments for the police station. Bridgeo said paying the debt on the police station will cost about $1.2 million a year initially.

Augusta Housing Authority Executive Director Amanda Olson has expressed interest in the authority acquiring the former police station property and building, where the authority’s offices are located, to redevelop it as new rental housing and office space. She confirmed, last week, the housing authority remains interested.

The city and housing authority officials have previously discussed a price of about $650,000 for the site.

“Great community support for our police department and appreciation for what they do,” Ward 2 City Councilor Kevin Judkins said, in an emailed response to Bridgeo. “Now let’s get building!”

Residents also approved the $32.64 million school budget, approved by the school board in March. The school spending plan was approved by city councilors in May as part of the overall $69.4 million city and school budget, by a 710 to 134 vote.

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