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O’Fallon rebrands drive for new police station, courthouse as Proposition 1

Cramped quarters in the current police station are one reason why proponents of Proposition 1 say a new justice center is necessary.

Cramped quarters in the current police station are one reason why proponents of Proposition 1 say a new justice center is necessary.

On Nov. 13 the O’Fallon City Council gave first reading approval to legislation that would place a proposition on the April 7 ballot for a new police department and justice center.

The council will review the ordinance a second and final time at the next meeting.

The legislation calls for an election to be held on Proposition 1, which would allow O’Fallon to issue a $28,680,000 general obligation bond for the purposes of acquiring, constructing, furnishing and equipping a centrally located police station. The station would contain courtroom facilities and holding cells as well.

Just before the Nov. 13 meeting, the council held a workshop discussion refining the ballot language, and discussing possible funding for the Proposition 1 project.

During the discussion, O’Fallon Finance Director Vicki Boschert pointed out that a statute states the city only can issue 10 percent of the city’s assessed value in general obligation bonds.

“With that statute, we could issue another $133,000,000,” Boschert said. “So we are well under what our legal debt margin is for those types of bonds.”

In the work session conversation, the council looked the merits and demerits of using either sales or property tax to fund the project.

Mayor Bill Hennessy said the O’Fallon Chamber of Commerce is “totally against raising sales tax.”

“I would rather keep with property tax instead of raising sales tax higher and having people go outside of the city of O’Fallon to buy their goods,” Hennessy said.

Councilmember John Haman said that the city could be negatively impacted if the sales tax doesn’t produce the money to pay back the bond.

“If another downturn does happen that’s more severe than this one, city services will suffer,” Haman said. “The money has to go to cover the bonds, it’s got to be pulled from somewhere.”

City Administrator Bonnie Therrien said a higher sales tax also could impact businesses coming into the city.

“For retail and economic development…one of the factors that the larger retailers will look at is sales tax, and if you’re going to be higher than the neighbor next door, I’m going next door,” Therrien said.

The current wording on a revised version of the ordinance lists the desired method of funding as a property tax increase.

Voters may be getting a sense of déjà vu regarding this discussion. In April of 2014, the city had placed the same item on the ballot, but Proposition J failed to pass, with 49.74 percent voting ‘yes,’ and 50.26 voting ‘no.’

Jim Frain, chairman of the recently established Citizens for the O’Fallon Police Station and Courthouse Committee, said that in the last election, the city could not run a campaign to raise support for the proposition.

“There’s only so much the city can say,” Frain said. “They can’t say ‘you need to go out and vote for this.’”

According to Frain, this time around the citizens committee will be adamantly pursuing the rebranded Proposition 1. At the start of the New Year, the citizens committee will initiate a door-to-door campaign, talking to resident voters about the need for the new police station, Frain said, and the committee will investigate other avenues of marketing as well.

Frain said that the drive for the new police center is called Proposition 1 because “the number one priority needs to be safety.”

“I think it’s the best thing for the residents and to keep everybody safe,” Hennessy said.

Councilmember Rick Battelle (Ward 3) said obtaining a new police station and court facilities is a necessity for the city.

“It’s long overdue, we’ve outgrown our facility; this doesn’t even come close to meeting our needs for 80,000 residents, more than 80,0000 residents now,” Battelle said.

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