Southold Town may borrow $29.1M to build new justice court, police headquarters

The tax rate in Southold Town could rise nearly 5% over the next three to five years to cover an estimated $29 million in costs for a new justice court and police headquarters, town officials said Tuesday.

A new justice court has been discussed by the Town Board for years, with the town nearly moving forward with a different bond a few months ago. The current police station has been described as dated and potentially an impediment to the department’s efforts to gain accreditation. 

Town engineer Michael Collins estimated at a work session two weeks ago that a new police headquarters could cost just under $23 million and a new justice court might be around $6.1 million. The Town Board is still considering building behind the Peconic Community Center, although they have not committed to the site. 

The Town Board indicated plans to split up bonding for the two buildings, authorizing a smaller bond in the near future to complete plans for the structures and then bonding for construction later on. 

“We talked about doing everything in one bond but the bond is too large to do it that way, because they want a complete set of plans before we do a large bond, but part of that bond is to get the plans done,” said Town Board member Jill Doherty.

“The way that this would work is, we would bond out for the full engineering and architectural, which would take us all the way from design through construction, inspections and CO,” Mr. Collins added. “That would be my advice, because that way we can use the same firms throughout the duration of the project.” 

Town comptroller Kristie Hansen-Hightower said the town could not authorize a construction bond until a year after the board issues debt for the soft costs. She suggested borrowing in four increments three years apart, with an initial loan of $1 million for design. The tax rate increase would not happen all at once.

Town Board member Greg Doroski emphasized the importance of public outreach as the town considers moving forward with the two buildings. 

“We know this is a need and this gets us closer to solving that need,” he said. “My big concern is just getting the public input, getting the public up to speed on all the work that you’ve done on this.”

Town Supervisor Scott Russell questioned why the board stepped back to develop a new plan if they were going to “move forward with the original plan.” He also suggested a “thorough inventory and a Powerpoint for the police station so the public has an understanding of how bad that building is.” 

The outside of the current Southold Town Justice Court offices. (File photo)

Mr. Doroski responded that the original plan was only for a new justice court, and it now encompasses both a justice court and new police station. 

“Maybe this should be part of the discussion, I think we’re going to need to level with the public that if we do the police station and the justice court now, we’re not really going to be doing anything else with Town Hall for the foreseeable future,” he said.  

Mr. Russell said he’s concerned about public opposition as well, especially to the site. “One thing the public needs to understand is that we have to spend money,” the supervisor said. “They need to accept that.” 

Mr. Doroski said that’s where he sees the public education factor leading. 

“What I like about this idea of doing the design first, it could potentially be moved,” he said, especially now that the Town Board has a clearer idea of needs at the police station.

Mr. Doroski has put together a plan for outreach, with a formal presentation and an opportunity for questions from the public. 

Memos from the chief of police and director of justice court outlining their needs were very helpful, he said. The pair could present those memos and provide copies for the public to look at, along with pictures, and Mr. Collins could outline what he’s presented to the Town Board. 

The meeting will likely be scheduled within the next month, he said. He plans to reach out to town police chief Martin Flatley to organize the specifics. 

The new police headquarters were discussed in depth at a work session two weeks ago, when Mr. Collins and Chief Flatley outlined needs for the department. 

The two toured police departments serving similar communities, including the East Hampton facility, while planning the new headquarters.

“What we arrived at is that in order to build something that works going forward for the department would really need to be a structure that’s about 30,000 square feet in size,” Mr. Collins said at the time. 

East Hampton has a slightly larger force, he said, serving a population that’s a little higher than Southold’s. The facility there is about 24,000 square feet on a slab, but only 80% of the force works from that location and the department has smaller substations, according to Mr. Collins.

“I basically scaled it up from roughly 80% of their force working out of that 24,000 square foot facility,” he said. “Taking a look at all the comparable ones, it seems that 30,000 is about where we need to be to project out in the future.”

The current Southold headquarters is about 10,000 square feet, with some spaces that are “completely unusable,” leaving somewhere between 7,000 to 8,000 square feet of usable space, according to Mr. Collins. “We’ve way outgrown that building,” he said.

“Ultimately, during the design process, we’ll make the building as efficient as possible while building in for future capacity,” Mr. Collins added.  He acknowledged that the price might be a “sticker shock” but pointed out that cutting back on expenses now will have repercussions in the future. 

“Twenty years from now, we’re always going to remember how much we spent. But we’re going to look back and go, well, we spent $20 million and we never got what we needed even at the time we built it. And then as you go forward, you’re just basically bursting at the seams,” he said.

Everything would move out of the current police station, Mr. Collins said. The only thing that would remain at the original site is the impound yard and the building that houses the command room. No personnel would be left at the old station, which would be demolished.

“A lot of what they preach obviously is to keep in mind that you should be building for the future as well. Don’t just build for your current needs right now, it should meet your needs 20 years down the road,” Mr. Flatley added, referring to guidelines from the International Association of Chiefs of Police. 

Town Board member Sarah Nappa said the current police headquarters, which were built in 1968, are in “dire need of updating.” The department also needs to fulfill a few building requirements before it can become accredited, she said. 

Mr. Collins and Chief Flatley handed out a document at the May 24 work session outlining space needs for a new police facility that are “consistent with recommendations put forth by the International Association of Chiefs of Police.”

Here’s what the police department has request

  • A dispatch room with at least four stations and enough room to buffer sound from phone calls and radio transmissions; an attached office; small bathroom; and service window.
  • A separate prisoner processing room with a desk. All processing — including report preparing, fingerprinting, photographing and breath testing, among other things — would take place in that room.
  • Prisoner detention cells located directly off the processing area, with a hallway containing at least three male cells and a separate hallway with at least two female cells separated by a solid wall. 
  • A property/evidence room large enough to secure property and evidence in separate areas, including gun lockers, narcotics storage and cash safes, with a work station and adjacent room with packaging material. An exterior wall should include at least 10 secure locker drawers that open to the inside of the room.
  • A detective’s room with at least four workstations far enough apart for private phone calls; a separate office for the detective sergeant; a small secure room for detective’s evidence being held for processing or submitted to the county crime lab; and two adjacent interview rooms with audio and visual recording systems. 
  • A classroom that can hold at least 30 people.
  • A small gym/open workout space with mats for physical training such as defensive tactics and Taser training.
  • A patrol turnout room with equipment, tables, chairs and a Smartboard where at least 12 to 15 officers can gather for briefings ahead of shifts. 
  • A records room with workstations for at least four employees and one additional desk at a window accessible to the lobby. A clerk there would be assigned to servicing walk-ins to the lobby during business hours and processing records requests. 
  • A technical room for a civilian analyst to manage in-car video; dispatch audio recording system; public camera systems; and to manage social media accounts.
  • A community room located off the entrance lobby for groups that wish to meet with department members. The room would double as an interview room for lobby walk-ins.
  • A locker room for both men and women, with showers; toilets; and enough locker space to store equipment.
  • An employee kitchen with a table for meal breaks.

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