Update: The choice to be billed annually for the next 30 years to pay off $47 million in debt in exchange for a new police station is expected to be on Oviedo’s November election ballot. The Oviedo City Council unanimously approved putting the bond referendum to the voters on July 17.
Oviedo residents could have the opportunity to vote on a major city project in the upcoming November election.
“[People] believed because [they] voted to do a new police station in 2016, everybody has believed that one was in the works,” Oviedo Mayor Megan Sladek said. “As soon as it was approved, instantly it was realized that the [$11.4 million] was too little to do it right.”
The project would include a new, modernized 47,000-square-foot police headquarters, most likely behind City Hall, an upgrade over the current decades-old 20,000-square-foot public safety building that sits beside City Hall. A 2017 space needs study, commissioned by the city, determined that Oviedo needed a building at least twice the size of the current one to function properly. The current building, which the department moved into in 1990, would be left alone until a decision is made for its future use.
“We outgrew this building many, many moons ago,” Oviedo Police Chief Dale Coleman said. “But it was really built for the people we had at the time. There was not much.”
Among the major needs for a new building include de-escalation training, which could utilize virtual reality rooms and new classrooms; the availability for further community outreach and events; and putting officer wellness systems, such as a meditation room and an up-to-date fitness center, in place to improve their mental health, Coleman said.
“The [new building] just makes so much more sense because you can put it in the right place based on where City Hall’s campus is likely to grow based on just growth in the area in general,” Sladek said.
The city has expressed the need for a new police facility for years, due to the small, aging and outdated current building. Because of the size limitations; significant needs such as new roofing, new windows, and updating ADA compliance; and the cost, a basic renovation did not make sense to officials.
“I personally have walked through that building more than once, and it is not something I would want anybody to work in,” Councilmember Natalie Teuchert said. “It needs a lot of work. So whether you’re a police officer or any of our staff, we need to take care of the building.”
If the referendum is passed, the expected timeline for completion of the new building is about three years.
Keep the old building, or not?
If the referendum passes, the current building would be vacated with an option for demolition, which would cost about $143,000, upon completion of the new police station. But some see potential in keeping it.
“If it can be used as a community space, in my opinion, that is a better use of the building than to just make it disappear,” Sladek said.
Keeping the building up but vacant could cause its own issues, however, including potential for vandalism and continued upkeep costs.
“[With demolition], you would end up with a green space that you could use for whatever purpose is necessary in the future, and you would not settle on a fixed footprint for something that may not be appropriate for that footprint,” Councilmember Keith Britton said.
If it is repurposed, the building would still need renovations, but the costs and design do not need to be decided upon yet, Sladek said. The estimated cost to renovate it to an office building is $12.8 million, according to a cost breakdown presented at the working session.
Stakes are high
The referendum’s stakes are high, because if it is not passed, the police department would continue working in the current undersized building.
With the new building would also come a more efficient emergency operations center (EOC), Coleman said. Additionally, leadership has considered the effects on employees working in an outdated building.
“Morale would be better,” Sladek said. “It’s up to the people to decide whether morale is a sufficiently important factor to build a bigger police station.”
The financial repercussions of the referendum are something voters will need to take into account at the polls.
“I think citizens need to determine how they feel about funding a new police station,” Oviedo Finance Director Jerry Boop said. “Voters are going to vote whether or not they want to tax themselves for the building of that building.”
Officials know that asking taxpayers to pay such a high price tag is a big task. Boop said that based on current estimates, the cost for person who owns property with a $200,000 taxable value (not what the property would sell for) would be $156.23 annually and for a person who owns property with a $300,000 taxable value, the cost would equal $234.35 annually. The assessment would continue for the life of the bond, which is 30 years but Boop cautioned that the rate will decrease with rising property values and future refinancing.
“There’s a time in the season for everything, and I believe that this is the time, and I’m hoping the citizens of Oviedo support it,” Coleman said. “I think they’ll be getting their bang for the buck if they do, they’ll get their return.
“On the other hand, I know it’s asking a lot for them,” he said. “This is their police department, we just occupy the space. But the citizens are the ones that have the voting power, and their mandate is what they want.”
And what happens if the referendum does not pass?
“We regroup and figure out what we can do,” Coleman said. “I’m not a give-up kind of person. If that’s not the direction the citizens want us to go, then we’ll figure out a different direction to go that is acceptable.
“But I’m hoping the message gets across why it’s so important,” he said.
A public hearing about the police station ordinance is scheduled for July 17.
Other ballot items to expect
Due to Florida Senate Bill 90, which was passed in 2021, all vote-by-mail requests expired Dec. 31, 2022. Prior to the expiration, Seminole County had about 100,000 requests. To date, about 6,000 have re-registered.
Oviedo’s financial news
In the June 28 working session, Boop revealed that the city’s budget saw an unexpected increase of projected revenues of more than $2.2 million.
“It’s really been a blessing to us,” Boop said. “We saw the [interest rate] freight train coming, we reacted to it and now we’re just riding on the crest of the wave, so to speak.”
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