Thoughts – Police Station

$30 million Police Station in Idaho Falls

We have an amazing police force here in Idaho Falls. In the current political environment, it is important that the police have our undivided support. They have a thankless job keeping us safe.

We must support our local police in their difficult task of keeping law and order in these uncertain times. Police should not be encumbered by civilian review boards or asked to be social workers. They have their hands full just trying to keep the peace. Recent media backlash on a national level for our beloved police has only hampered the police in protecting the innocent and bringing the criminals to justice. This should be reversed. Persistent cries of “police brutality” should be recognized for what they are — attempts to discredit our police and discourage them for doing their job to the best of their ability.

Salaries should be adequate to hold on to and attract the very finest men, and women, available for police work. But in the questions of money, great care should be taken. It is important that our city can fund the police in a way that is sustainable and free from Federal monies that can embroil our city police into Federal politics.

This brings us to the issue of the $30million police station. Normally with a city expenditure of this size and scope it would be wise to not only get citizen feedback and have a healthy debate about the issue, but do it through the process of a bond election. This would be the normal way for an expense this large.

However, members of the City Council voted to not only approve the new police station but they also decided to fund it through the use of a “Certificate of Participation”. In laymen’s terms this is a 20 year “Lease to own” financial certificate guaranteed by the city. It works much like a loan and a debt obligation however it is called a lease agreement. Borrowing through the use of a Certificate of Participation is a loophole and very tempting. The first benefit to the city officials is that you aren’t required to go through the lengthy process of a bond election. A 67% voting requirement is a difficult hurdle to overcome with an expenditure of this size. It eliminates the public debate, and work of educating the public about the need for the new facility. Going around the voters is so much easier.

However, there are consequences to going down this path. The most glaring negative is that because the city didn’t vote on the facility then the city can’t raise taxes through a levy to pay for it. The money will by necessity come out of the general fund. This potentially can have a negative impact on the future finances of the city. Idaho Falls is already flirting with the upper limit of what the State of Idaho will allow cities to tax its citizens. The cash flow impact of this loan is approximately $2million per year. I’m surprised the city council felt there was room in the city budget for such a large annual expense. This potentially could put other services at risk such as Fire abatement, public works, etc. It will make it harder to pay our police a competitive salary to attract and retain the very best of officers. City employees have expressed concern that their current benefits are being cut.

In summary, the police need more space and facilities to operate. They have 96 officers on the payroll and will be adding more officers in the future which is good. We want to hire and retain the very finest of officers. We want to give our officers the best tools to accomplish the difficult task of police work. However with this extra expense coming out of the general fund, it will make the task of retaining and equipping our police officers difficult at best.