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July 25, 2011

FLASHPOINT: Smart decisions needed for new police headquarters

Terre Haute needs a new purpose-built facility for police headquarters.

During the last three decades, Mayors Chalos, Jenkins, Anderson and Burke made significant commitments investing in public facilities, including new streets, parking garages, and sewers. Unfortunately, with the exception of continuing state mandated sewer-related upgrades and finishing a few selected projects already planned, Mayor Bennett has done little to improve one of government’s most important functions, the basic structures that serve all taxpayers.

In fact, one of Mayor Bennett’s few campaign promises was a new police station. With three and a half years gone and an election only three months away, he is scrambling to keep that promise. Regrettably, he is only pursuing bad ideas.

His current bad idea has two variations.

Bad Idea One is to move most of the city offices out of City Hall (except for his personal office, legal, redevelopment, city clerk and city court) and put them in part of the former Family Y in Fairbanks Park. Then the police would move back into City Hall with little more space than they had there before.

This would separate the mayor from vital city offices including his own city controller, board of works and the city engineer’s office, among others. And it would make it difficult for citizens who had business in City Hall among multiple offices. While he may use as a defense that the county moved offices into an annex a few years ago, that move largely separated courts and their support offices from executive and legislative offices frequented by the public. That is not the case in the Bennett proposal.

Bad Idea Two is to move the police into the Family Y building. The Family Y was built to serve people of this community with recreational and educational facilities as part of a community park, along with the neighboring Girl Scout headquarters. While currently vacant, this facility is vital to Terre Haute’s citizens, and we have a moral obligation to the generations of women who worked hard to build that building to honor their intent. Its services are needed now more than ever.

While both of his plans may allow for limited operation of some former Y facilities, our community needs a broader and deeper vision and restoration of all of the services that an active Family Y can provide. That needs to be our goal.

]Our police deserve a headquarters purpose built for the public safety demands of the 21st Century. Currently, our police have waited too long in a temporary headquarters that should have been replaced by now.

While there are many options possible, here are three locations that, if elected mayor, I will give priority consideration.

First, we could build on city-owned land adjacent to the current City Hall. More than 20 years ago, Mayor Chalos proposed building west of City Hall. It was a good idea then and it is a good idea now. This is part of an existing city-county government campus and it provides conveniences to both law enforcement officials and the public.

Second, we could build adjacent to the current temporary location at 12th and Wabash. There is plenty of room there on the current parking lot. This could help spur economic development in our Mid Town neighborhood.

Third, we could work with the Vigo County School Corp. to use part of the soon to be closed Chauncey Rose Middle School property at 13th and Locust streets. Like the current location, this is located close to the center of our community, and it would help anchor this important but endangered neighborhood. In the same area, the city could work with Indiana State University for other property in the North 13th Street corridor.

There are a variety of tools that can be used to finance public facilities. First, we should look at possible federal and state resources available for public safety. Possible sources include Homeland Security funds as well as creative use of Housing and Urban Development funds already committed to our community. We can also explore bonds for which there are guaranteed income streams which would not involve local property taxes. The mayor is currently planning to do this in the Terre Haute Sanitary District to pay for the largest publicly-financed project in the city’s history. While the funding source would be different, the concept would be the same.

Such a building project should serve our community for the balance of this century and that is the kind of long range investment that is good for all taxpayers.

The failure of our current mayor to solve this problem in the last three and a half years is indicative of his overall record as mayor: do little, put off decisions, let problems fester in the hope that things will get better later.

We will have a better community if we have the courage and the work ethic to make it a better community. We owe our policemen the best equipment and tools to do their jobs. We are proud of them. Let’s demonstrate that pride by giving them the facilities they deserve.

Fred Nation is the Democratic candidate for mayor in the Nov. 8 general election.

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