Nine days ago I argued that the Salem City Council should cut costs to bridge a funding gap facing the yet-to-be-built police facility planned for just north of downtown.
As noted above, in the $63.9 million plan 9.18% was budgeted for escalation, meaning construction inflation. This totaled $4,503,000. There also was a 9% contingency line item of $4,907,000.
So $9,410,000 was set aside for construction cost increases and unforeseen contingencies. It sure seems this should have been enough, so why are City officals asking for $2 million on top of the $9,410,000?
(Note: in my blog post I observed that if the escalation and contingency budgets were reduced proportionately when the police facility budget went from $63.9 million to $61.8 million, this still would leave $9.1 million in those line items.)
Now Salem Community Vision also is questioning using $2 million in urban renewal funds for the police facility. A Facebook post says this money should go toward public access to a greenway path at the far end of the (vast) police facility parking area shown in grey below.
Here's excerpts from the Salem Community Vision post. (I'm a member of the SCV steering committee, but had nothing to do with the post.)
POLICE STATION ... It's getting worse! Today the City released the newest site plan of the police facility for public comments during this next week on the current "Site Plan Review" phase. It is alarming to see the public walkway along the creek has suddenly disappeared.
It shows up faintly as a "future" walkway. Well, we voted for $62 million to build a police station AND we want public access. The recent proposal to use Urban Renewal "downtown revitalization" funds to build the public lobby has been widely criticized. Those funds are for exactly what they say, "revitalization", not for building public buildings.
...It's time for a public outcry. An opportunity for this is next Wednesday evening 6.00 to 7.30 at South Salem High School when the plans will be on display, and staff will be there to hear your comments.
Let's fill in the comments forms and tell them what we think. Or email your councilors at [email protected]
Alternatively email City Planning with your comments, by the end of next week (July 27th) to [email protected].
Combining the good ideas of Salem Community Vision with my own perspective, here's three reasons the City Council should think twice about using $2 million in urban renewal funds to pay for a cost overrun on the police facility construction budget.
(1) A Community Room already was part of the police facility plan. As noted in my blog post, City of Salem staff are claiming that the $2 million will pay for a Community Room and associated restrooms that have been requested by members of the public.
This can't be true, because a Community Room was mentioned in the Voter Pamphlet statement describing the $61.8 million bond measure approved by voters in May 2017. I have no idea why City staff are wrongly claiming that the $2 million would go to a police facility "add-on," when the $61.8 million budget must have included money for a Community Room.
(2) Urban renewal funds should be used for a broad public purpose, not as a "slush fund" to deal with police facility cost overruns. There's been a disturbing trend in downtown urban renewal funds being used for purposes outside of their original intent.
I've heard credible stories of how City officials defer maintenance on downtown parking garages, then use urban renewal money for, say, replacement of elevators that could have had a longer life if they'd been maintained properly. There also was a disturbing lack of oversight on $749,000 in urban renewal funds that was handed out to T.J. Sullivan's Park Front building for no good reason.
(The Adobe Spark web page I made, which is featured in the preceding link, has been viewed 6,645 times, so this shows that a lot of people in Salem are interested in how urban renewal funds are used, or in this case, misused.)
So the City Council, which also acts as the board for the Urban Renewal Agency, needs to crack down on misuse of money that should go toward revitalizing downtown, rather than other extraneous uses.
(3) Using $2 million in urban renewal funds for a creekside path does make sense. Given that there's apparently at least $9.1 million for cost escalation and contingencies, the City Council should demand that the police facility be built within the $61.8 million dollar budget approved by voters -- which, as already noted, must have included money for a Community Room and associated public restrooms.
But I agree with Salem Community Vision that using $2 million, or thereabouts, to fund construction of a path along Mill Creek would be a good use of urban renewal funds, because the path would help to revitalize the north downtown area. Salem doesn't make as much use of urban waterways as it could. This would be a step in the right direction.
The map above shows a "future path location." Let's make the future now.