A close look at the future of the LEC
Questions revolving around the Law Enforcement Center (LEC) in Brainerd may soon be answered since the Crow Wing County Board is expected to make a decision on its future on Dec. 11.
The future of the LEC has been in limbo for years. The LEC, built in 1978 with 26,400 square feet of space, was part of the 2004 downtown campus building plan which envisioned a new LEC connected to the jail, which was designed to accommodate it down the road. The new LEC would go up in the public parking lot across from the historic courthouse on Laurel Street in downtown Brainerd. The idea was to tear down the old LEC and create a parking plaza in its place.
However, the county board then decided eight years ago to follow through and build the Crow Wing County Judicial Center and the Community Services Building, and hold off on building a new LEC.
Leaving an even older, space restrictive building.
Crow Wing County Sheriff Todd Dahl said there are misconceptions in the public about where the sheriff’s office is housed and about the cost of a new LEC. Dahl said people think that the sheriff’s office is housed at the new jail, and it is not.
The sheriff’s department has 67 of its full-time equivalent employees housed in the old LEC, located next to the historic courthouse. The sheriff’s jail staff of 60 full-time equivalents is housed at the new jail. The sheriff’s department at the LEC houses a lobby, dispatch center, and offices for administration, support division, patrol division, boat and water division, investigators, evidence room, emergency management and specialty units, such as the Crow Wing County Tactical Team. It also has storage areas, locker rooms and a conference room.
“It’s run down and is more than 30 years old,” Dahl said of the LEC. “We’ve made due with what we have, but times have changed and we have more staff and more calls and we need to look at our future. We are now on the new 800-megahertz system and looking at dispatch consolidation, like all the agencies are doing and we’d like to be the central hub.”
Sheriff Operations Lt. Dave Fischer said the existing LEC wouldn’t be able to be a future central hub because the building would not be able to handle it.
Reid Thiesse, county’s facilities manager, said the sheriff’s office is asking for a new 47,252-square-feet LEC and a 36,732-square-feet garage. Thiesse said the facility needs study shows that the proposed building would be at capacity in 20 years.
If a new LEC is not built, Thiesse said a new roof and parking lot is greatly needed and would cost around $200,000. Thiesse said the LEC’s mechanical system, that runs 24-7, is run down and would need to be replaced, as well as the windows.
Thiesse said it’d be more cost efficient to heat and cool a new LEC, compared to the existing LEC.
Fischer said the county also will have to upgrade its server equipment, which currently is housed in the LEC basement, which was the old jail, and it would cost about $75,000.
“There is $1 million in equipment in here and it shouldn’t be housed in here,” said Fischer. “We haven’t upgraded it yet because we’re not sure what will happen to the LEC.”
Space is also a concern at the LEC. Fisher said many of the deputies have to share a work station.
Dahl believes now is the time to build a new LEC.
“This is a unique opportunity that has come about where taxes would not be affected and the interest rate lowered considerably,” said Dahl. “We also are going to refinance anyway in the county. None of us want for our taxes to go up and that is why it’s so unique.”
Mike Carlson, county accounting and finance manager, said the county will have its first opportunity to refinance its 2004 general obligation bonds related to the current facilities in 2013. In late 2013, when the county anticipates refinancing $31.4 million of bonded debt, Carlson said he believes the county will be able to get a significantly lower interest rate, saving the county about $4 million.
“This is a one-time opportunity to use this refinancing structure in the county’s long-term strategic capital planning and it will manage taxes,” said Carlson.
The proposed refinancing would keep the debt service levy flat and only increase the length of the existing capital improvement bonds by one year. Carlson said the county’s general obligation bonds would extend through 2025 versus the current 2024 retirement date after refinancing that includes the construction of a new LEC. Along with the estimated $7 million in bond proceeds, Carlson said the county also has about $8 million in unassigned fund balance that can be committed towards helping to pay for the new LEC. Carlson said there are no other large capital projects in the works at this time.
If the project is not approved and no improvements are made to the original LEC, Carlson said taxpayers would most likely see a decrease in their taxes related to county debt service payments in 2015 as refinancing savings would produce a one-time step down of the county’s debt service levy. The estimated debt service levy reduction in 2015 would be approximately $450,000 or equivalent to 1.3 percent of the county’s overall levy. This would equate a tax savings of $5.65 for homestead valued at $150,000 or $23.49 for commercial property valued at $300,000.
Carlson said the county has seen a decrease in its levy for three years in a row as he anticipates 2013 to be the third year of this negative county levy trend.
Wold Architects Engineers estimated constructing a new LEC that would cost anywhere from $7 to $15.3 million, while adding on and remodeling the existing building could cost $13.2 million.
Dahl said the reason why the range in building a new LEC is so broad is to give county commissioners more options when deciding what to do with the LEC.
Fischer said, “We’ve downsized this project so it won’t cost as much. We asked for what we believe we need.”
The county board is expected to adopt its final levy and budget Dec. 11., so a decision on the LEC is expected at that time.