Council taps firm to build new police headquarters

FRONT ROYAL – The Town Council picked a firm to build a new police department headquarters and decided on a way to finance the project.

The council voted 5-1 Tuesday to approve a bid from Dustin Construction to construct the facility for $7.73 million. The total cost of the project is roughly $10.04 million and includes the price of furniture, architectural and engineering services and other related expenses.

Dustin Construction, of Ijamsville, Maryland, submitted the apparent low bid for the project. Officials opened the four sealed bids Sept. 7. Moseley Architects designed the department’s future home on land off Kendrick Lane and Monroe Avenue that once was part of the former Avtex Fibers property.

Councilmen John Connolly, Gary Gillispie, Christopher Morrison, Jacob Meza and William Sealock Jr. voted in favor of approving the bid. Vice Mayor Eugene Tewalt voted against the motion after expressing his concern over the escalating cost of the project. Earlier estimates put the cost at closer to $5.5 million, Tewalt noted. The project cost could come in closer to $11 million to $11.5 million with “change orders” or unexpected expenses, he warned.

Taxpayers can’t afford the 11-cent increase in the real estate tax rate needed to cover the cost of the project, Tewalt said. The councilman said the town could redesign the project without “frills” and cut the price.

Meza, who served on a committee overseeing the facility’s design, said the town received a fair price for the project given the close range of bids.

Connolly said he felt comfortable with the design to meet the needs of the department 40 years into the future.

“I do know that it’s going to be a burden to the taxpayers,” Connolly said. “But, at the same, the benefit is to the taxpayers, too.”

Tewalt acknowledged that the police department needs a new facility but reiterated that the town could build a facility for less.

The council also voted to increase the amount it would seek in the New Market Tax Credit Program to finance the project from $9 million to $11 million. The council had approved a resolution Aug. 8 to participate in the program through the Front Royal-Warren County Economic Development Authority. The EDA could allow up to $12 million for the project. The council considered revising the amount after learning that the project cost exceeded $10 million.

Tewalt, who also cast the sole dissenting vote against the resolution, reiterated his concerns with the escalating cost of the project.

“Every time we get a report back from our architects on the police department it just keeps going up at a million dollars at a clip,” Tewalt said. “I know it’s gone up four million (dollars) since I sit here on this council since they started the process.”

Tewalt said he couldn’t “vote tonight in good conscience to raise the price of this building” and increase the limit of the tax credit allowance.

“If this doesn’t come to fruition in the seven years that we anticipate, then we’re gonna be held responsible for the whole 100 percent of the loan,” Tewalt said.

Meza described the tax credits as a creative financing method for the project but it does not mean the town receives free money. The program lowers the debt the town would incur for the project, he said, adding that the town should put this in place now to help when Front Royal must start paying on the debt in seven years. Meza said the town should take advantage of the program now but also prepare in the event the tax credits are not available in the way leaders hope.

Connolly said he thought council made the right call to design the facility to serve the department’s needs 40 years into the future.

“Paying for it is going to be difficult and we’re going to have to take a long, hard look when we start passing budgets moving forward but I think that, all things considered, for the size of building that we are building, this is a fair price and it’s going to be up to us to figure out how to pay for it,” Connolly said. “I’m not afraid of that and I will be voting in support of this this evening.”