Police station funding passes with landslide vote

Apr 5, 2017

After nixing a police station proposal during town elections last year, voters have found a plan they can get on board with. On April 4, they approved a temporary tax increase to fund the $13.4 million police station proposed for Tucker Road.

With a 2347-1128 vote, residents approved a “debt exclusion” — called such because will allow officials to increase taxes above the state-mandated limit until the town has repaid money borrowed for station construction.

[Related: How the police station funding could affect your wallet]

"I'm so pleased with the victory, and the margin of victory. Very proud day for the Dartmouth Policemen," said Police Chief Bob Szala.

The station, which will replace the Gidley School, is needed for space, security, improved efficiency, and future growth, according to officials. The police department was moved into modular units in 2014, after bacteria in the water system at its Russells Mills headquarters made an officer sick.

The 21,800 square-foot proposal would include a meeting room that will be accessible to the public; a sally port, which would allow for safe and secure prisoner transport; 3,900 square feet of unused space for future expansion; and work spaces that can be reconfigured for more personnel. The site will also include a foot path around the construction zone to the two ball fields at the back of the property, allowing town leagues to continue utilizing the space.

The tax increase will create a $21 tax burden for every $100,000 your home is worth, explained Director of Budget & Finance Greg Barnes. The good news… that’s only for the first payment year. As payments are made, taxes will drop. By year 20 — which is the average span of debt payback — taxpayers would be responsible for $12.78 for every $100,000 their home is worth, said Barnes.

This means that for the $298,500 median-valued Dartmouth home, the station would cost the homeowner $62.68 in taxes the first year; after 20 years, the station would cost the same taxpayer about $38.16.

Szala said that although work started immediately following last April's election — when voters opposed an $8.4 million proposal to renovate the Russells Mills headquarters — there is still more work to be done.

"We still have one more hurdle to cross at Town Meeting in June. I think that will go very well," he said.

Currently, the 91-person police department functions out of 7,200 square feet of modular units, and five trailers and two sheds that total an additional 1,176 square feet behind the Russells Mills headquarters, said Szala.

The setup promotes space and security issues, as the sheds house the telephone system and radio server, while the trailers house firearms, evidence, and records, said Szala.

The Tucker Road construction proposal follows a rejected $8.4 million renovation proposal. Last April, voters vetoed the multimillion budget — designed to gut the Russells Mills headquarters of contaminated material, overhaul the building’s floor plan, and add a garage with a training facility.

"It's kind of exciting to think that in 24 to 28 months, we could be in a new facility," said Szala, who celebrated over a ginger ale with other town officials.

Officials said that the proposed station puts the department closer to the majority of its calls. Officials also said the department has never had an official police station, rather it’s always been a repurposed building or modules.

Select Board members, advisory committee members, and police officers voiced their support for the project prior to elections.