VILLAS – Twenty years ago, the governing body decided to move Lower Township Police Department from the Bayshore Road municipal complex to Cape May County Airport, three miles away. According to Mayor Michael Beck, that “cost saving decision” in 1995, although well intentioned, has actually cost the township plenty since then.
Beck said the airport location costs about $178,000 in upkeep, not including a roof replacement cost of $2 million (or more) in the very near future. He indicated that if this upkeep/utility money over 20 years had been devoted to a new building, the project could have been completely funded and there would not be any discussion this project.
Beck added that the current location of the police headquarters also removed police from the community they serve, and discourages citizen interaction and easy access to officers. There is no public transportation to the station, which means those lacking a car, can’t get there. Beck sees the isolated nature of the police at the airport as reducing police visibility in the community. The “perception of safety” created by having police stationed in neighborhoods they patrol is very important to residents, he said.
Township Administrator Michael J. Voll and Police Chief William Mastriana presented the case for a new building. Voll reported that the current building is a “sick building” with mold and other issues brewing. At over 55,000 square feet, it is entirely too big and expensive to heat and cool. He cited the $95,000 yearly utility bill, and the $85,000 annual maintenance costs as excessive.
The new building is estimated to cost about $3.5 million. He stressed that figure is an estimate until the township can hire an architect and begin the bidding process. Voll stressed that no new taxes will be required to pay for the project.
Mastriana agreed with Voll. He described a building that is so large and full of small offices and long corridors that he has trouble managing and coordinating his divisions properly.
Mastriana noted that he supported the move to a new complex on Bayshore Avenue because public access would be enhanced, calls for service analysis indicates that police demand is higher in the Villas/North Cape May areas. He added that the new building would better support new police technologies as well.
Daniel A. Shousky, a principal at Oak Design Partners PA, architects and land planners, presented a set of plans for the complex that would include both police and municipal courts. The building would be designed specifically for those uses at 17,000 square feet. This is in contrast to the 55,000-square-feet building at the airport. He noted that construction costs are estimated to be about $200 per square feet.
Michael Garcia, a partner with Ford-Scott Associates, the township’s auditor, spoke about funding the project through bonds. He reported that his analysis indicates that the township is in a good position to issue bonds in 2015 because some older bond debt service will be satisfied over the next two years.
The satisfaction of those bonds will free up bond money that could be applied to this project. He added that interest rates are currently low and now is the time to move if council approves the plan.
All council members seemed to approve the project in principle. They supported doing “what is best for the police department.” Two council members did have funding concerns.
Councilman Thomas Conrad (R-1) questioned the total costs of the project. Voll advised him of the estimate of $3.5 million, but Conrad was not satisfied with the accuracy of that estimate. Conrad also questioned the cost of moving cells to the new building. Councilman Erik Simonsen (R-3) was concerned that there were no set figures on moving the dispatch function to the new building.
After some comments from Deputy Mayor Norris Clark, and Beck concerning a possible vote to issue bonds to fund the project, it was decided that the best way to move forward is to first hire an architect who will provide more precise funding information to council. At that point council can prepare a bond issue if council approves the cost estimates. All council members voted to hire the architect to seek clearer cost estimates as the best way to move the process forward for now.
To contact Jim McCarty, email firstname.lastname@example.org.