Tri States Public Radio Staff
Supervisor Reopens Shared Center Talk
Wed August 28, 2013
Buying Building a Challenge for Burlington
Questions have begun to surface as to whether the city of Burlington will be able to move ahead with plans to relocate its police department on its own.
The city originally wanted to partner with Des Moines County on a joint law enforcement center.
It would house the county sheriff's office and the city's police department, whose current home is deteriorating.
The county board of supervisors reached a consensus, earlier this month, to back away from discussions about the center, which led the city to go it alone.
Burlington is doing just that, as it is considering an offer to purchase the U.S. Bank building on Jefferson Street.
The total cost to acquire the downtown property and renovate it is expected to exceed $5-million.
The city wanted to use money generated by a large tax increment finance (TIF) district to pay for it, but City Manager Jim Ferneau says that option may not be viable.
Property is assessed at a specific value in a TIF district, so the taxes collected on improvements to the property are set aside in a separate account.
Ferneau says the district is on pace to generate about $200,000 less than projected during the current fiscal year.
He says that is due, in part, to the city putting more of an emphasis on paying off old debt. Specifically, he says the debt service levy does not generate TIF revenue.
Ferneau says Burlington's bond counsel is reviewing the available information to see how the city can proceed when it comes to a new police station.
POSSIBLE COUNTY SUPPORT
Meanwhile, Vice Chairman Bob Beck told his fellow Des Moines County supervisors, this week, that he does not want to shut the door on partnering with Burlington on a joint law enforcemeent center.
He says he could get back behind the project if the overall price tag was cut from more than $5-million to around $2-million.
Beck believes that is possible if the budget for renovations in drastically cut.
"I think it is a great building," says Beck. "It is very sound. It is really a super structure."
Beck says his support would also hinge on a public-private commission being formed to oversee the facility, as opposed to it falling under the control of the city.
He says he will take a wait-and-see approach when it comes to future discussions with Burlington.
MORE FINANCIAL TROUBLE
At the same time, Burlington is facing more bad news regarding its finances.
Voters rejected the creation of two new utility franchise fees in early August. The result is a roughly $600,000 shortfall in the city's current budget.
City Manager Jim Ferneau says the city is now facing another shortfall of up to $600,000 in the form of lost local option sales tax revenue.
"Sales are going to vary from year-to-year," says Ferneau, "the state (of Iowa) goes through the same type of issue."
Ferneau says city staff anticipated a reduction of several hundred thousand dollars, so the higher figure came as a big surprise.
He says more budget cuts will be needed, on top of those required to make up for the lost of franchise fee revenue.
That could include personnel this time around.
Ferneau says Burlington can cover a portion of the lost local option sales tax revenue with past collections.
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