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The city of Lonsdale entered a purchase agreement for neighboring parcels for a new police station. The larger parcel, 1925451158, is nearly 8 acres and the other, 1925427003, is just over 2 acres. In the future, the land not used for a police station may be used for added amenities. (courtesy of Rice County)

It’s not so easy to plan for the future when a pandemic is going on, but one thing’s for certain about Lonsdale’s future: a new police station is not a want, but a need.

City staff has already negotiated a purchase agreement for two parcels at the 15th Avenue NE and Commerce Drive SE intersection, approximately 10 acres of land, and the purchase agreement was approved March 26. During a special online meeting Thursday, the City Council gave City Administrator Joel Erickson clear direction on what the project entails. The next step is to send RFPs to architectural firms and post on the city of Lonsdale website.

The City Council held the special meeting on Thursday to reach a consensus on the project’s scope, since differing opinions came up at a previous regular meeting. Originally, city staff drafted RFPs to request the design, bidding and construction of a new police facility of approximately 6,000 square feet as well as the price of a “master plan” for future amenities that may be added to the site later. These future amenities may include a city hall, a library and public spaces. However, another opinion was to plan immediately for construction of a new city hall, along with the police station, rather than waiting.

At the beginning of 2019, the City Council nixed a plan to build a police station and city hall amenity at a different location, because too many unknown factors inhibited the planning process. This time, the council voted unanimously to proceed with plans for a police station only. Councilor Steve Cherney was absent for this portion of the meeting.

With minor renovations applied to City Hall in 2019, the council agreed a new facility isn’t necessary. However, a new police facility remains a high priority. The current police station is small, approximately 1,500 square feet of office space, making it impossible for officers to comply with Minnesota Department of Corrections requirements and provide room for storage.

“We made some improvements, and I think City Hall is working for what we need it for,” said Councilor Scott Pelava.

Added Councilor Cindy Furrer: “It’s not a perfect situation at City Hall, but I think we’re in an OK place for now.”

With the decision made final to move forward with a police station alone, City Administrator Joel Erickson described the various financing options for the project. He said he initially considered a lease purchase with the Economic Development Authority the best financial route for the project, but after giving it more thought, he recommended the city issue general obligation capital improvement bonds.

“I agree with you pretty much 100%,” said Mayor Tim Rud. “I think we are the elected officials, so we should drive the train to promote the police station, instead of an advisory board.”

With this option, the project is subject to a reverse referendum initiated by 5% of voters in the last city election, which took place in November 2019. Since 136 voters participated in the last city election, it would take seven voters to trigger a reverse referendum, where voters could choose whether they want the police station project to go forward. The city would then need to pay for the election.

Councilor Kevin Kodada said he believes general obligation bonds allow the city to be as transparent as possible with the project, and Pelava added it’s the most “financially responsible” option.

“There is a risk with the reverse referendum, but this is something that’s been talked about over and over,” said Pelava. “… I’m not worried about someone trying to push against it. I think everyone realizes [a new police station] needs to happen.”

The estimated cost of a 6,000-square-foot police facility is $1.6 million. Additional expenses include furniture, fixtures, equipment and indirect costs, such as planning and designing. In official project timeline has not been determined yet.

There was no motion for the City Council to approve the financing mechanism for the project, but rather for approving the RFP. The motion was approved unanimously with Cherney absent.

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