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Great asset to Morris is fiscally misunderstood

Published: Thursday, March 21, 2013 9:58 a.m. CDT

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I have come to realize that some local people have been misinformed about the planning, public involvement, and financing of our police department and city hall, as well as the actual office holders who voted for the facility.

This misinformation is a natural result of coffee-shop talk and, now, political agendas. I believe that when the people of our community are fully informed, they will support and be proud of this great facility that will serve our great-grandchildren 70 years from now.

Like many in our community, I had vey little knowledge of the city’s needs for a new facility. However, on Feb. 22, 2006, the Morris Downtown Development Partnership hosted a public meeting on facility needs. I chaired that meeting and acted as moderator.

Presentations were made by both police and fire chiefs, the city clerk, architects, and consultants on the new requirements for police facilities. After listening to their presentations, I belive the city had no choice but to build a new police department.

The Morris Daily Herald ran an editorial several years ago about the deplorable conditions of the old police department, which created several safety hazards. Just ask any local police officer about the old department and you will learn that our police department outgrew the old bank building many years ago.

There was insufficient room for the officers, the equipment and even the criminals in custody.

The police department accounts for about two-thirds of the cost of the new municipal building. If the city had to build a police department, which would account for most of the cost of the building, why would it even consider leaving city hall in the old bank building and have two facilities to maintain?

The answer is it shouldn’t have and it didn’t.

A feasibility study commissioned by the city council in 2002 indicated the estimated cost of a police department alone would have been between $7.8 million and $7.9 million. The completed municipal services building cost $8.6 million.

The original cost estimate for the municipal services building in 2006 was nearly $16 million.

A decision to build a police department without incorporating all the municipal services in one facility for the long term would have been short-sighted, wasteful and fiscally irresponsible. Remember, building nothing was not a realistic or responsible option.

Many may be unaware of the planning, the public involvement, and the timeline of the whole process. The city council began planning for the facility over 13 years ago (1999) under the prior mayor. Over the years, perhaps as many as 15 different aldermen provided input and voted on the various aspects of the project.

Additionally, at least two dozen public meetings were held to solicit feedback from local residents over the course of the project. In fact, few people realize that Mayor Kopczick did not even vote for awarding the contract to build the facility because a majority of the aldermen (7 to 1) voted in favor of the facility.

Maybe the most important thing to understand is how the facility was paid for. The city began saving TIF funds for the municipal services building in 1999, as it was planning for the future. By the time the facility was built, the city had saved all of the funds necessary to complete the project without raising any taxes or borrowing any money.

Think about that, a government that thoroughly planned for the future, saved for the future, refused to spend money it didn’t have and got the job done under budget. The only difficult aspect of the project was that the lowest bidder was not a local contractor, which was disappointing to the mayor and the city council.

However, we must understand that the law required the city award the project to the lowest bidder.

Since the MDDP meeting was held seven years ago, I have tried to learn how the building was planned for, funded and built. The point of this letter is to help inform the public and address any misinformation that is circulating, especially at election time.

I believe the Morris Municipal Services Facility is a marquis landmark of our community that was built with proper planning and fiscal responsibility. This building has enhanced our downtown area and enhanced downtown property values. I commend the mayor and aldermen of past and present who worked so diligently to see the project through. I also believe that local residents who have the chance to learn all of the facts and history will be very proud of the facility and what it adds to our community.

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