PROVO — Provo voters this fall will have a chance to decide whether they want to pay more in property taxes over the next 20 years for a new city hall and a new police and fire building.
The Provo City Council this week voted to put a question on the November ballot on whether voters would approve a $69 million, 20-year bond to finance the construction of a new police and fire headquarters, emergency dispatch center and a city hall in downtown Provo, as well as a new fire station to replace Fire Station No. 2 on Canyon Road.
The bond, if passed by voters, would raise property taxes by nearly $120 a year on a $265,000 residence, or by nearly $218 a year on a business with the same value, according to city estimates.
City officials say the extra revenue would be used for long-needed upgrades to city buildings.
Provo's current city center was built in 1972 when the city's population and the police force were much smaller — and was meant to only last 25 years, said Cliff Strachan, Provo City Council's executive director.
"And we're at year 46 already," Strachan said, adding that if the bond passes, it will be about 50 years by the time city officials can move into a new building.
Today, Provo's city center buildings do not meet seismic standards and need significant repairs, according to city officials.
The existing Provo city center downtown is "in critical danger" if an earthquake were to occur, Dick Blackham, the city's facilities manager, says in a video posted on Provo's website about the bond. He said the aging building is becoming "increasingly unsafe" and has "long outlived its intended lifespan."
Provo's police and fire chiefs also say in videos on the city's website that their headquarters and Fire Station No. 2 are not up to seismic standards and are dilapidated.
"Think about that for one minute," Provo Police Chief Richard Ferguson said. "It would take one medium-sized earthquake to bring the department down. So this building is a hazard to our people, to our citizens who visit, and to our ability to accomplish our mission."
Provo Police Chief Richard Ferguson said his officers have also "outgrown the space," noting his department has more than doubled in size over the building's 44-year life. He also said the evidence and storage areas are "overflowing" and threatened by potential flooding.
"We are one flooded basement away from losing key evidence in critical cases," he said.
Provo Fire Chief James Miguel said Fire Station No. 2 was originally built as a home in the late 1950s and purchased by Provo in the late 1960s, then converted into a fire station. The building, he said, has become "structurally dilapidated" and has "substandard living conditions."
"The list of serious problems is staggering," he said, noting the roof, siding and window frames are failing and leaking, and black mold threatens the attic and basement. Additionally, he said plumbing and electrical systems have been struggling for the past 15 years.
"It's painful, but it needs to be done," Strachan said of a potential property tax hike, adding that it's unfortunate that the needed upgrades have been put off for so long.
Provo Mayor Michelle Kaufusi said in a prepared statement Friday that she was "gratified" to the City Council for giving Provo voters a chance "to give a gift that will last for decades to come."
"Our first responders deserve seismically sound, up-to-date facilities," she said. "This bond will make that possible."
The $69 million bond is the most expensive of three options city leaders were considering to address needs for police, fire and other city departments.
One option would have been to relocate to what was once the Sears store at Provo Towne Centre mall. The move would have a cost about $44.5 million. Another would have been to build a new police headquarters and renovate the existing city center at the current location downtown, with a price tag of about $45.5 million.
Over the last several weeks, city officials held open houses and tours of the facilities to showcase the need. City officials said they also used surveys, focus groups, phone calls, meetings and emails to research what Provo residents would prefer.
"Our research showed that when people understood the challenges at the current city center where Provo's police, fire and city administration are located, and at Fire Station 2, support for doing something to improve city facilities grew remarkably," Wayne Parker, the city's chief administrative officer, said in a prepared statement Friday.15 comments on this story
Strachan said city officials "expected that people would prefer" the cheapest option, but comments from the public surprised them.
"We learned that our residents' civic pride rose to the top," Strachan said. "Council members heard again and again that if we do this, we should do it right, do it long term, and do it downtown."
In anticipation of the November election, the Provo City Council is scheduled to hold a public hearing on Sept. 25 for a presentation of arguments for and against the $69 million bond.
More information about the bond and the proposed projects can be found at provo.org.