With hardly any money in the till to pay for a new police station and courthouse, Rotterdam officials are now considering an option to lease one.
Supervisor Harry Buffardi said discussions with several private developers are ongoing to determine whether a public safety building could be constructed without taxpayer dollars and then leased back to the town. He expects to decide by March whether a lease or lease-to-buy arrangement are viable options for the town to finally replace the aging three-story brick building on Princetown Road.
The crucial element is cost. Buffardi said he’s not interested in any idea that will cause the town to exceed the state-imposed 2 percent tax cap, meaning the expense of building a new public safety facility must fit within this framework.
“I don’t know if we can do it or not,” he acknowledged Wednesday. “We’ll entertain any idea at this point to bring this home.”
Town officials began meeting with builders last summer and reviewing preliminary sketches to start determining the cost per square foot of a new structure. During these discussions, several developers suggested leasing as an option.
“Several companies contacted us when we started looking around,” he said.
Buffardi is the latest in a growing line of Rotterdam supervisors to tackle the topic of a new public safety facility. Now more than a century old, the existing building was originally constructed to house the Jefferson School and has been outgrown by the town’s bustling justice court.
Police have complained the building is thoroughly inadequate for their operations. The structure’s limited size has cramped many of the department’s offices, and its design as a school has made it difficult for them to move prisoners from the small jail cell to the court.
The building also hasn’t undergone any extensive renovation in years and, like many older structures, develops problems that become costly to repair. In recent years, the station has suffered a roof collapse that drenched several of the department’s offices and a boiler problem that left it without heat.
Rotterdam budgeted $31,500 to heat and provide electricity for the building this year, according to the budget. An additional $20,000 is allocated for repairs to the building — an increase of $5,000 over the previous year.
But despite four consecutive supervisors identifying the need for a new public safety facility, Rotterdam has no money or land set aside for it. The town has spent more than $76,000 over 10 years to study the issue but appears no closer to getting a shovel in the ground.
The largely defunct and dilapidated, town-owned Curry Road Shopping Center was considered as a site for the new building in 2004, but a study determined the town would need to bond between $10 million and $16 million to build the structure.
More recently, a study conducted in 2011 found the Grand Union building on Hamburg Street could be converted into a public safety facility for roughly $7 million. This cost didn’t, however, include the purchase price of the privately owned property.
Buffardi said some of the expense of leasing a new facility can be curtailed by eliminating the high cost of operating the existing building. The town could also realize savings through the county’s consolidation of dispatch services.
“We’re actually trying to come up with a numbers analysis to see if the town can afford this,” he said.
County officials have issued a request for proposal to develop a centralized dispatch facility. County Attorney Chris Gardner said the new call center could be located either in an existing building or as part of a new construction.
“It could be sited anywhere in the county,” he said.