No sticker shock

The concept of renovating and adding on to the Hamilton County Law Enforcement Center appears headed for public bid again, only this time with a realistic expectation that the much-needed upgrade will come at a significant cost, much higher than initially projected.
County commissioners have been talking about this endeavor for a long time now, having come to indisputable conclusion long ago that doing nothing is no longer an option. The county board is unanimous on that point. The Aurora City Council has endorsed the plan as well, offering to pay up to 40 percent of the cost, without knowing exactly what that will be. And in fact, we’ve heard no vocal opposition regarding the core plan to build additional working space and a create safer working environment.
 The 12th Street facility built in 1972 to accommodate one fifth the number of people it does today now houses law enforcement personnel from the Hamilton County Sheriff’s Department, Aurora Police Department as well as several Nebraska State Patrol officers. Consolidating resources is a logical approach for local law enforcement, but the fact is the community has simply outgrown this shared facility.
The recent struggle with this project has been focused not on its need, but entirely on the price tag and how to build more for less. Originally estimated in the $750,000 range, the low bid received last fall came in at $1.25 million, and that was even after the project had been scaled down considerably.
The county board was wise to reject those bids, hit the pause button and delay discussion until after the new year began, when two new members had time to weigh in on the issue. Last week’s unanimous vote to rebid the project suggests that board now sees no other alternative.
There will be a drastically different expectation this time around in regard to what this project will cost. An effort to trim unnecessary items added up to around just $44,000. Based on the earlier bid and the items that will likely be added back in, like an adjacent sallyport, the final total could and should be expected to be at least $1.25 million.
Commissioners determined early on that a public vote was not needed on this project, though that was based on the lower cost projection. I agreed with that decision then, and would suggest that a public voted is not needed now, even if the cost tops $1.25 million. Voters elected their county commissioners and city council members to make decisions on their behalf, and that’s precisely what they are doing.
Taxpayers should be paying attention, however, because they will ultimately be paying the bill, through both their city and county tax levies. Anyone who has questions about the need for this expansion/renovation, or any particular design details, should be asking their city or county representatives for answers now, not later.
There should be no sticker shock in a month or so when bids come in well above what this project was initially expected to cost, and proceeds as planned.
Kurt Johnson

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