Matt Vis, tbnewswatch.com
THUNDER BAY – The city police department is exploring the possibility of expanding its station, but that has at least one councillor sounding financial alarm bells.
The Thunder Bay Police Service is in the preliminary stage of working with the city to determine how to upgrade the Balmoral Street station, with early estimates pegging the cost at close to $3.5 million.
Annual audits of the facility have identified issues with the storage of evidence, creating the need to expand to retain property and evidence.
Every year the police’s collection of evidence and property grows.
Executive officer Chris Adams says a lot has changed since the headquarters first opened more than 25 years ago, creating the need for changes.
“We have a couple of sections of this building that are quite old in their layout and functionality,” Adams said.
“When this building was opened … it had a certain function or flow. Policing has changed quite a bit in that time. Some units have contracted and others have expanded so we have to look at how the officers and other civilian staff are working and make it more efficient.”
Documents obtained by Dougall Media detailing the proposal reveal plans to add a single storey expansion to police headquarters.
It would increase the building’s storage capacity by 50 per cent and allow the gym and weight room to be relocated to the expanded area, freeing up the current exercise space for office use.
However, Coun. Rebecca Johnson questions the availability of funding for such a significant capital upgrade, no matter how valid the project might be.
“The taxpayers in this community are telling me very loudly and clearly ‘no more.’ At this point in time I can’t support any further additions, no matter what they are,” Johnson said.
“Where we are in the current fiscal situation, for somebody to come along and say we want to increase, regardless of the rationale, I do not think it’s appropriate. I don’t think the taxpayers of this community can absorb anything further. We’re building two new fire stations, we’re looking at an events centre, we have a bit of a reserve and where is that all going to go?”
There would either have to be spending cuts or an increase in taxes to be able to fund any project of that magnitude, she added.
Last month council was told the city budget was facing shortfalls of $5.7 million for the first quarter of the year, after finishing 2013 with a negative variance of $8.2 million. In April council approved dipping into the stabilization reserve fund and across the board spending cuts to try to reign in the deficit.
Those budget issues have to be sorted out before new, larger projects can be considered, she said.
Johnson said she first heard about the expansion plans when contacted by media on Tuesday.
Adams said the police service has been working with the facilities, fleet and transit department in the city during the early stages
According to the proposal document, a consulting firm will be awarded the project during the second week of June. That will be followed by site investigation and preliminary design development with final design study development to occur in August.
The study is scheduled to be completed by Aug. 29, 2014.