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Public safety complex bond question approved

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Roswell Police Chief Phil Smith, pictured, and other public safety staff shared their view on why their departments would benefit from the proposed public safety complex, paid for by the $35 million general obligation bond, at the full Roswell City Council meeting on Thursday. (Alison Penn Photo)

Roswell registered voters will be able to vote to approve or reject if the city of Roswell’s proposed public safety complex should be paid for by a $35 million general obligation (GO) bond.

Roswell City Council considered the matter on Thursday night. With all 10 city councilors present, the vote was unanimous to approve a resolution to include the bond question on the ballot for 2020 Municipal Officers Election on March 3. The question allows voters to decide on paying for the complex via an increase of property taxes from 55 cents to $4.08 next year. The bond would expire in 2037.

Councilor Juan Oropesa, George Peterson and Angela Moore let it be known they were in favor of letting the constituents vote on the bond and of the public safety complex, but had some concerns.

Oropesa’s concerns were the conditions of the city’s roads, bonding capacity and other needs such as the needed future expansion of the wastewater treatment plant. Peterson said he agreed with Oropesa’s points that roads needed to be prioritized after years of deferred maintenance.

Moore wanted to “ease the mind” of the community saying spending these funds was purposeful for the benefit of first responders.

“The Roswell community supports its first responders,” City Manager Joe Neeb said. “Our first responders understand the council priority. We do not take that support from the constituents lightly and are committed to protecting our home — Roswell. Together, we are creating a future for Roswell.”

In response to Councilor Steve Henderson’s question, Erik Harrigan, one of the city’s bond advisors from RBC (Royal Bank of Canada) Capital Markets attending by phone, informed the council that the interest rate is 4.5%, a conservative number, and that the city’s total bonding capacity is $29 million for this year and $30 million for the subsequent year.

Harrigan and Juan Fuentes, city director of administrative services, also said the property tax rate will decrease after $1.13 million in bonds initiated in 2008 are paid off in 2023.

Both Neeb and City Councilor Jeanine Corn Best emphasized that a public safety complex has been discussed over a few years. At previous meetings, city officials said the complex would meet the needs with a new location for police, fire and the municipal facilities in need of upgrades and maintenance, costing approximately $10 million.

“… Now is the time to pull the trigger,” Best said. “We’ve got to upgrade, folks. If you want our town to grow, we’re gonna upgrade. …”

Best, who is also the chair of the public safety committee, stressed that the tax decreases after 2023 and that there is a sunset clause, which will not be on the ballot. She added the public safety complex is necessary instead of “band-aiding” the city’s public facilities.

The new complex is expected to have a fire and police station, the fire department administration offices, public safety dispatch, an emergency operations command center, the municipal court, and could have code enforcement all potentially housed on about 8 acres on East Second Street.

One of the challenges that Neeb recognized is that the city’s emergency operations command center is essentially housed in a closet and is assembled at Station 3 when needed. A need for a station east of the railroad tracks was emphasized by Neeb and Councilor Barry Foster.

Mike Mathews, deputy city manager and former fire chief; Devin Graham, Roswell Fire Department chief; and Phil Smith, Roswell Police chief made their arguments on how the new facility would positively impact the various public safety services.

Neeb said the “long-term investment” and the consolidation of facilities into one would improve the community’s public safety services.

The sole public speaker, Larry Connolly spoke in favor of the resolution and encouraged people to attend the city’s finance-focused public forum on Wednesday at the Roswell Convention & Civic Center at 912 N. Main St. at 6 p.m.

Currently, the city has garnered $22.36 million in outstanding debt obligations and $1.13 million of this will be settled up after 2022. In the last couple of years, large and high-dollar projects have been prioritized, including the new Roswell Recreation & Aquatic Center for $23 million, the $20 million private bonds for the smart water meter project, Roswell Convention & Civic Center’s expansion at $7 million and $4.6 million for upgrades to the Roswell Air Center.

On Oct. 1, the council was informed about the project at a workshop. After the workshop, a special Finance Committee meeting was held where they approved to send the ballot question to the full council.

Special projects reporter Alison Penn can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 205, or at reporter04@rdrnews.com.