Local Politics

Tie vote kills proposed Raleigh safety center

Posted March 2, 2010 1:50 p.m. EST
Updated March 2, 2010 6:28 p.m. EST

— The Raleigh City Council deadlocked Tuesday over plans for a public safety center downtown, effectively killing the $205 million project.

Mayor Charles Meeker and council members Mary-Ann Baldwin, Nancy McFarlane and James West supported raising property taxes by a half-cent in 2011 and another half-cent the following year to finance construction. But the proposal couldn't gain a necessary fifth vote to pass, as council members Thomas Crowder, Bonner Gaylord, John Odom and Russ Stephenson voted against it.

The 300,000-square-foot safety center would have housed the city's police and fire departments, as well as its 911 operations center and other emergency services. The 16-story building was supposed to occupy the site where the Raleigh Police Department headquarters sits at the corner of McDowell and Hargett streets.

Police Chief Harry Dolan said he was disappointed by the vote.

"We've got great needs, and those needs over the decades are growing," Dolan said. "Eventually, we've got to sit down, and we've got to move forward."

The police department will move forward with plans to vacate the downtown headquarters for an office building on Six Forks Road, he said. The move was supposed to be in conjunction with the demolition of the old headquarters and construction of the safety center.

The safety center came under fire in recent weeks by council members who complained that it included unneeded amenities. Some also suggested that the city renovate the existing police headquarters and use it rather than construct another building.

"We never looked at this in the context of what we can afford and what we need for our city as a whole," Gaylord said Tuesday.

Meeker and City Manager Russell Allen have pushed to move forward with construction, which had been put on hold last year because of the tight budget. They said project delays would cost the city if interest rates and labor and materials costs increase as the economy rebounds.

A consultant hired by the city presented a report to the City Council last month that suggested the price tag for the safety center could jump to as much as $300 million if the project is pushed back.

"The city has already spent millions of dollars and hundreds of hours (on the project)," McFarlane said Tuesday. "Going back to square one now will cause more delays and will end up costing the taxpayers more money."

"It will send a vote of confidence to our public safety workers that they're doing a good job," West added.

The tie vote means all work on the project will be halted immediately.

Stephenson said he didn't like the idea of housing emergency services in a high-rise building and said a different plan would be "less vulnerable" as well as less expensive.

Allen called the proposed center "a great site for security" and noted that New York City is building a 20-story tower for emergency services.

Crowder agreed that current facilities for the police and fire departments no longer meet their needs, and he said the council should work quickly to come up with another construction plan that can take advantage of the current low interest rates.

"We can move forward in a way that borrows money without a tax increase," he said.

Meeker shot down an attempt to do that, saying it would send the city "down a path of looking at a facility that is not as good" as the proposed center.

"Hopefully, there will be light at some point, and we can move forward," he said, noting the project is dead unless one of the opponents has a change of heart.