Norwich - Residents fired questions and expressed skepticism about the proposed $33.4 million new downtown police station Tuesday during the first of six upcoming public informational meetings on the controversial project.
Since the current police station opened in 1979, the city police department has added 31 officers, computer networks, a domestic violence victim advocacy program, the D.A.R.E. program and a new polygraph unit, police Chief Louis Fusaro told about 25 people and city officials in the audience.
The current building is "woefully undersized," Fusaro said.
The City Council will hold a public hearing Aug. 6 on an ordinance to bond $33.4 million to build a new station in the heart of downtown Norwich, at the former Sears building at the junction of Main and Cliff streets. The ordinance will be placed on the Nov. 6 referendum ballot.
According to a tax impact sheet handed out at the meeting, residents could expect a 0.48-mill tax increase, about $48 on a house assessed for $100,000, in the first year. By the fifth year, the tax impact would be about $116 on the same house. The costs would be reduced if the city obtains state or federal grants for the project.
Fusaro said the proposed station, designed by Jacunski Humes Architects LLC, would meet current as well as future needs. He said the current building was built for the needs of the 1970s on a limited budget. The building lacks parking, private interview rooms, community rooms for programs in conjunctions with local civic groups and room to expand, he said.
The proposed station would occupy the Sears building, which would be renovated, as well as several surrounding parking lots. The 60,000-square-foot facility would include a three-story parking garage with 75 public spaces at the current city-owned Cliff Street public parking lot.
Anticipating a common question aired in the two weeks since the project was unveiled, Fusaro called it an "urban legend" that the current building was designed to accommodate a third-story addition.
"Not true," he said. "They squeezed everything out of that building."
But resident Gerald Mulvey questioned that position and said he believed the current building could be expanded. Mulvey said residents are struggling, and property assessments and taxes continue to rise.
"I don't think the taxpayers need to spend $33 million for a new building on top of all the money you spent already," Mulvey said.
Doug Moss of 7 McKinley Ave. asked why the department wouldn't consider establishing substations throughout the city instead of building a new station.
Fusaro said substations cost more to run than a centralized station and are less efficient. Fusaro said it's better to have officers in the streets on patrol.
Even supporters of the project told Fusaro and city officials that they have a tough sell ahead. JoAnn Philbrick, a frequent critic of city government, said she supports the project but questioned the process.
"You've known about this for a long period of time. You've been in negotiations," Philbrick said. "We who have to foot the bill have three to four months to do our research."