Ocean Shores residents to decide on new police station

Ocean Shores residents will have a $12 million decision to make in November after the City Council passed an ordinace to place a bond measure on the ballot to fund a new police station.

Despite recent financial successes and growing property tax revenue from increased home values, city officials have determined a bond measure to be the most sustainable financing option for the project.

“It’s not something we can afford out of the general fund. Our debts will be about $1 million a year if we go with the 20-year repayment term, so that’s just too much money to burden the general fund with for the next 20 years not knowing what’s going to happen with the economy,” said Ocean Shores Finance Director Angie Folkers.

According to Folkers, there was a reduction in property tax levy rates in 2021. The proposed levy, therefore, would be about half of what residents were paying for a previous sewer levy, or approximately $0.53 per $1,000 of assessed value.

The current Ocean Shores Police Department (OSPD) building on Point Brown Avenue was built in 1990 with the intention of serving as a temporary structure. At the time, the OSPD had only six commissioned full-time officers.

OSPD now has 12 full-time officers and five additional positions, while still operating out of the same 2,881-square-foot building. According to the ordinance, the Ocean Shores Police Department Chief will be requesting an additional four full-time officers and one code compliance officer in the 2023-24 budget.

“Since I’ve become mayor, I’ve spent a lot of time talking to the chief about what we need, and the biggest thing that comes back is we have to do something for a police station. It doesn’t meet the needs — it doesn’t have the capacity to meet the officers that we need, it doesn’t allow us to maintain the state laws that we’re required to do,” said Ocean Shores Mayor Jon Martin during the May 23 meeting at which the decision was made to place the bond on the ballot.

The current OSPD building not only lacks sufficient space for the growing staff, but also fails to have a dedicated interview room or sufficient space to be in compliance with state laws regarding custody interviews of juveniles.

According to OSPD Chief Neccie Logan, plans for a new $12 million police station would provide enough room to grow the patrol by another six to seven positions and include additional office space for three civilian positions. The new structure is anticipated to last at least 20 years.

Attempting to lower costs, the city has identified three potential options for a new station, all of which would be located on land that the city already owns.

The first option is to build a new police station where the current station resides. According to Ocean Shores City Administrator Scott Andersen, however, this option comes with several costly challenges. Not only would the current foundation have to be removed and redone, but setback regulations would require a two-story structure to be built. A second story would add approximately $3 million in construction costs.

“The other one we looked at is the lot that’s right across from the City Hall. We have it now, it’s a lot on the canal. It’s a nice lot, but the problems are the same. With the setback we’d have to build a two-story structure, so we’re still looking at an $11.8 million price tag,” said Andersen.

The city has identified a location for a cost saving single-story structure at a city-owned lot behind Bennett’s Fish Shack. The property is currently being used as a parking lot and is an important resource for overflow during the peak season.

“That, we could use to build a police station, so that’s the one that we’re sort of recommending, in terms of cost it allows us to build a one-story structure. It’s big enough, it’s close to downtown, it’s close to the business district,” said Andersen.

The three options presented by the city last week are not an exhaustive list. The city also owns a property on Ocean Shores Boulevard that could be subdivided, but the move will likely lower the value of the property and adjacent lots.

“I know there are probably 100 reasons why we shouldn’t do it, and I’m working hard to come up with solutions,” said Martin. “I’m stuck with what is the solution? If it’s not this, then I don’t know what it is. The location may not be the right place, there’s going to be more discussion, but I know it’s going to cost something to do that.”

Several members of the City Council, including Councilmember Lisa Scott and Councilmember Eric Noble, shared Martin’s concerns that prolonged discussion would lead to higher costs and ongoing constraints for the police department.

“It’s time to do something about this. I know it’s not an easy sell, I don’t like the idea of paying for it either, but I’m a citizen of this community and I have a responsibility just like everybody does,” said Councilmember Bob Peterson.

The council voted 5-2 to pass the ordinance and therefore place the bond measure on November’s ballot. The council also voted to amend the ordinance to allow excess bonds to be redeemed rather than redirected to other public safety projects.