The O’Fallon City Council has approved placing Proposition 1 on the April 2015 ballot, a bond election that calls for the furnishing and equipping of a new police station and courthouse for the city.
Prop 1 will cost a total of $28,670,000, and will be funded through a property tax increase of $.0458 per $100 of assessed valuation, or $17.40 per year for a resident who owns a home with a $200,000 value.
“I go to Starbucks and I get the caramel macchiato, which is $4.55,” said Jim Frain, chairman for the Citizens for the O’Fallon Police Station and Courthouse Committee. “(Four) of those a year will buy you a new police station, a new courthouse and more room for our city hall to expand.”
Currently, the O’Fallon Police Station is in city hall, which is a part of the Sisters of the Most Precious Blood building. The city takes up 80,000 square feet of that compound, of which the police department uses 16,000 square feet. If Proposition 1 passes, Frain said city hall would absorb that 16,000-square-foot area.
Capt. Jeffrey Gray, a 20-year veteran of the O’Fallon Police Department, was on the force when the city moved to its current location in 1999. Initially, he said, the current police facility was sufficient for the needs of the department, which employed 66 police officers to serve a population of 51,274, according to 2000 census data. After several years, the O’Fallon police force grew to match its rising population and started feeling the confines of its current location, according to Gray. Today, the department employs 118 police officers for a population of 83,377.
“There’s just no more room to grow,” Gray said.
After several years, the city’s growth also required city hall to expand, which took some areas, including storage closets and a basement room, away from the police department.
“We’ve lost nearly all of our storage space due to the demands of city hall,” Gray said.
To keep up with the amount of evidence from its cases, the department was required to create an additional area in its file room to be used for evidence storage.
MaryAnne Palmer, an evidence specialist with the police department, said that managing the influx of new evidence within the confines of the current police station is an ongoing challenge.
“It’s a constant battle to get rid of it,” Palmer said.
Due to a lack of storage space in the armory, stacks of ammunition boxes also are stored in the file room, next to the cartons of papers and information.
Gray said officers and employees are currently forced to share workstations as well. Police have to wait and take turns using computer stations when coming off patrol and needing to type reports. According to Gray, an example of the overcrowding is the office shared by O’Fallon’s 12 school resource police officers, which has just six chairs and desks for its occupants.
The offices for staff officers also have been absorbed as storage space, and one of the department’s interview rooms (used for talking to witnesses and taking statements) was repurposed to store the fingerprint machine and paper shredder. An interrogation room in the detective bureau also was commandeered to store more computer equipment.
According to Frain, the current setup for the city court also is less than ideal. To get to the courtroom, which often is used as a meeting room for homeowners associations, prisoners are walked through city hall.
Frain said he feels a new police station will let O’Fallon’s law enforcement do their jobs more efficiently, and will make working conditions better for the department’s officers.
“The main thing I hear my friends and my neighbors saying is ‘we feel safe in O’Fallon,’ and I really believe that the quality of the new station, the atmosphere (and) their ability to really get caught up with all the technology that they should be on top of … I think it will add to our safety,” Frain said.
O’Fallon residents were asked to vote on this issue (then called Prop J) in April of 2014. It failed to pass with 49.74 percent voting yes, and 50.26 voting no.
The O’Fallon Chamber of Commerce, which supported Prop J, has not officially come out in support of Prop 1.
Erin Williams, president and CEO of the O’Fallon chamber, said that organization’s board had not gone through the process to support the proposition yet, but her feeling is that the board’s recommendation will be favorable.
“It’s so badly needed,” Williams said.