Ocean View officials question police station

When town officials opened the six bids to construct Ocean View’s new police station about two weeks ago, they were legitimately excited. The bids ranged from $1.9 million to $2.3 million, when they had expected a number closer to $4 million. And it seemed like a much-needed break in a financially uncertain time for the town.

But in all the excitement, those same town officials might have missed the real point, said Cliff Mitchell, a member of the town’s Long Range Financial Planning Committee.

“Everybody thinks it’s wonderful that we don’t have to spend $4 million,” Mitchell said at the committee’s Tuesday meeting at Ocean View town hall. “But remember, we started out at $1.5 million. There’s still a question whether we need a 15,000 square foot station.”

Mitchell urged town officials on Tuesday to consider a smaller station, instead of the approved 15,000-square-footer on Central Avenue, just north of the Village of Bear Trap Dunes. It is a point that Mitchell introduced to the town’s financial committee before town officials opened up the bidding process for the new building, and his reasoning is simple. Ocean View’s officers don’t need that big of a station, he says.

At an early February committee meeting, Mitchell presented a study of a police station in Anne Arundel County, Md. The Southern District county station employs about 110 officers, offers similar amenities to the proposed Ocean View building and is almost the exact same size.

Mitchell said at Tuesday’s meeting that the town should consider a station half or even a quarter of the proposed size, and he asked why the town’s 3,300-square-foot town hall wouldn’t be big enough for a new station.

And although Ocean View Chief of Police Kenneth McLaughlin said the 7,500 square feet on the second floor of the proposed station will be left unused for perhaps the first decade, or two or three, he adamantly disagreed with cutting its size. He said that he wants to build for the town’s future growth, although there is only room remaining for 500 new homes in the town, according to Town Manager Kathy Roth.

Growth would have to rely on future annexations, which cannot be predicted, Roth said, but would likely have to come from the south because Bethany Beach lies to the east and Millville to the west.

Growth within the police department will also be difficult, at least for the next six years, because of a proposed Plan B, alternative, budget presented by Roy Thomas and approved 6-1 by the finance committee on Tuesday. The “top-down” budget will only allow the department’s operational budget to increase by 3 percent each year after 2007 until 2012, using an inflation rate of more than 3 percent. In the 2005 fiscal year, the town’s budget increased by 13 percent, after increasing by 24 percent in 2004 and 26 percent in 2003.

Ocean View Councilman Bill Wichmann, a member of the finance committee, was the only committee member to vote against the Plan B of the proposed fiscal year 2007 budget. He did so although it would, if everything goes according to plan, balance the town’s deficiency-ridden budget by 2012, by raising taxes 15 percent.

Despite the problems surrounding the town’s budget, Wichmann said on Tuesday that the town’s engineer has looked over one of the bids and is leaning toward making a recommendation for Willow Construction to construct the proposed station. The recommendation would come at town council’s March meeting. But if it were up to Mitchell, it might not be accepted.

“Before you sign a construction contract, I seriously urge you to consider a smaller alternative,” he said on Tuesday. “If you have this facility and it’s not all used, people are going to wonder why you’re raising taxes.”

Wichmann had another idea, on that could help remedy some of the interest costs on the town’s loan to finance the station.

“We could pay $2 million in cash,” he offered.