As many readers already know, I am running for the office of Alderman in the City of La Vergne. A hot topic of conversation has been about building a City Hall Complex. Today I met with the City Administrator and I felt the information he gave me was important enough to share on This is LaVergne, not just on my election page. Citizens need to be informed about what’s going on so here’s my post.
New City Hall ComplexI had the opportunity to meet today with City Administrator Bruce Richardson and we talked about a lot of different issues facing the city. The primary one was the space needs analysis conducted last year and what the results found. First, it’s important to note that an impartial third-party did the study so they have no personal interest in the results.
In 2015 when another impartial audit firm provided the Board members with results from the annual audit, they stated that the city’s debt was relatively low when compared to other Tennessee cities and given our revenue stream. I believe the debt was about 8% or 12% of the total budget, but I’d need to confirm that number. So the auditor said the city was financially very healthy. The recovery was really quite remarkable from where it was in 2010 when the city could barely make payroll.With very little operating money, a lot of the infrastructure and city assets have been put on the back burner. The space needs analysis identified just how bad things have gotten for the city. In talking with Bruce, there are four areas of major need. If the city can cobble together the funds, the four major areas of concern could be addressed as soon as 2018 if funding and land are found. Here’s the low-down:PUBLIC WORKS
The Public Works building on International Blvd. has become a danger to employees. There are electrical problems, mold, mildew, fumes, and it sits in the 100-year flood plain. There are also many ADA violations. The building is so old and in such a state of disrepair, it would be cheaper to build a new one. But again it’s in the 100-year flood plain so it should not be rebuilt where it currently sits.This is where the first dominoes effect would kick in. The city is looking at two sites to relocate the public works facilities. I won’t say where because – as anyone with economic development experience knows – when the seller knows you’re interested, the price for land goes up. (More demand = higher prices). If the city is able to obtain the land which would be IDEAL, it would also have room to possibly relocate the county convenience center and free up the top of the hill for another project. I don’t know what that would be, but up on top of the hill where the County Convenience Center is now located on Sand Hill Road, you’ll see one of the prettiest views of the city! It could be much better utilized for something other than a place to take your household trash!There may already be enough funding in the general fund to buy the land, plus another company is interested in the land where Public Works is currently located so money from that land-sale could also be applied to the purchase of a bigger and more sensible property. The city needs 10-12 acres to provide a building for utilities (water and sewer), public works (streets), storm water, mechanical shop, vehicle repair, and a sign shop. The current square footage in the existing building is 13,294SF. The study recommended in eight years that 17,559SF would be needed. The cost? Between $4.8 and $5.2 million. The city believes this needs to be done in 2017 because the current building is a health danger to employees.POLICE DEPARTMENT
Police Department personnel are currently located in two buildings (three if you include the substation that is nothing more than a place for paperwork). There are numerous problems with the police station… some I won’t go into here because it could put officers at risk and provide information that criminals do not need to know. What I can say is that one of the two holding cells for prisoners is no longer functional. There is only one interview room when at least three are needed (in the instance when there are multiple suspects or witnesses or victims). Sex offenders in other police stations have a separate entrance than the general public and we don’t have that in LaVergne. Additionally, the public bathrooms are inside the records administration office so there is essentially no place for people to have access to restrooms. Another huge problem is that vehicles that have been seized by police are required by state law to be fenced in. At this time, the city simply does not have the ability to do that…. because another domino effect coming!!Currently the police occupy 5,910 square feet. The space needs study found they would need about 40,000 square feet in eight years.Domino effect on expanded police facilities:The baseball field across from the Multipurpose Building is there due to a grant in perpetuity. This means that if that baseball field needs to be taken out (for parking police seized cars, for example), another field MUST be build somewhere else. Shockingly that would cost over $2 million to relocate the baseball field… to purchase land possibly and to build the field. I find that number shocking but there’d need to be an RFP done for this.To expand the police station, the study recommends that the police be given the current city hall and have another two story structure build between the current station and City Hall. The now vacated Criminal Investigation Department building could then be used as a new Multipurpose Building for citizens and the old concrete block building would be used for storage. The cost of building the police headquarters and providing a secure, fenced parking area for vehicles seized by police would be between $8.5 and $9.5 million. BUT then what about City Hall?CITY HALLA new City Hall would be built to house all other offices now scattered between current city hall and the old post office (Codes Building). The current city hall has about 8,551 square feet and in eight years – with everyone going under the same roof – we’d need 33,000 square feet. Under a new City Hall, security would be increased. I can tell you after having had an office in City Hall for five years, it can get very intense there in the absence of any secure areas. What would a new City Hall look like? A one-stop payment area for court costs, water/sewer bills, taxes, etc. In addition, building and other permits would be issued from one central location. Along with the offices currently located there, Planning, Engineering, Codes, and IT would move there. This would free up the old post office building (next to the $5.99 chinese buffet) for either resale or another use (community center?). The cost of building a new city hall would be between $7 and $7.5 million. City officials would like to see that done in 2018 and the new police headquarters done in 2019.Last but not least…FIRE DEPARTMENT, Station 1I didn’t take a lot of notes about the fire department except that Station 1 on Stones River Road now has a crack in it so big that when severe weather rolls through, fire personnel leave the building, concerned for their own safety and worried the building will collapse. The city is recommending a new Fire Department Station 1 (and headquarters) be built where the Civic Center is now located.That was a concern to me because the Civic Center is nearly our only quasi-historic building, so my suggestion is to price relocating the Civic Center to the lot the city owns across the street rather than just tearing it down if they did indeed build a new fire station on that property.The cost of a new fire station proposed to be built in 2019 is $4.4 to $5 million.There are other proposals as well in the space study, but the total for these would be between $24.7 and $27.2 million. That is the cost of what city officials consider to be PRIORITIES.I am attaching photos below of the full scope of costs and what a city hall complex could look like (from the report). I am not saying at this time whether or not I would support this, although it’s clear that a new Public Works building is a must and in the very near future.Part of the concern I have is that with the tax cuts this mayor keeps making, the extra sales tax revenue from Walmart will be wash so where will the money come from? Again, the auditor said the city is financially healthy so maybe there’s enough room to issue more debt SAFELY and WITHOUT A FINANCIAL IMPACT on citizens. That would have to be discussed. But I don’t think this can be done if taxes continue to be slashed. And when you put public works employees, police, and fire personnel in danger because of lowering taxes, then I do have an issue with that.