HATTIESBURG, MS (WDAM) - The Hattiesburg City Council said the city's new public safety complex will cost more than originally anticipated.
"Long story to the short, the project costs more than $25 million," Hattiesburg City Council President Kim Bradley said. "When we had this meeting some two years ago, the council was very clear that we needed to keep the cost under $25 million, and that included in the $25 million were all the extras. Temporary location cost for the court system, the police department and whomever we were going to be moving. I think over that two year period, I think that maybe we were given a commitment that couldn't be met."
Bradley said the project will cost $38.5 million, with an additional $3 million spent on financing.
"It's not that the building itself got increased in cost," said Councilperson Mary Dryden. "It's that a lot of other things got layered on there with it. My concern is that we're not just financing the construction of these two buildings, the fire and the police, but we're financing all of the other costs involved. It's just made a huge amount."
Councilperson Henry Naylor said he understands Hattiesburg's first responders need a new facility, but said there are also basic needs of residents that should be considered before the council approves such a costly project.
"I'm receiving concerns about some of the basic needs, such as pipes being burst on a regular basis," Naylor said. "I don't question the need for the building, public safety and all the things that are going to happen that are going to be positive for our city, but at the same time, you know, there are other things that are out here that are just as much a priority."
Mayor Johnny DuPree said, "Whether we do the public safety building or not, we're always going to have certain concerns about other issues in our community. You don't sacrifice one for the other."
Bradley said it will also be more expensive than initially expected for the city to keep the building occupied.
"It was just under $2 million that it would cost the city annually to occupy, whether you're making lease payments or you're making mortgage payments," he said. "When you go to this $38.5 million, you're somewhere over $3 million, $3.1-$3.2 million in annual cost."
The city will have to increase taxes to cover the extra annual cost.
"It was going to be a one and a half mil increase in ad valorem taxes when we went ahead with this, and now it's 4.3," council person Carter Carroll said. "So it's a considerable amount of money, and I think that the citizens of Hattiesburg need time to let us elected officials know what their thoughts are on that."
Carroll suggested that council break the resolution into parts. He wants to move forward immediately with the portion of the project that gives the Hattiesburg Police Department its new building , but hold off on the other additions, like the offices for the Hattiebsurg Fire Department, municipal court buildings and parks and recreation administrative offices.
"The only question that only has one answer is ' does the police need a do building?'" Carroll said. "The only answer is 'absolutely as fast as possible. Could this council go ahead, realizing we have additional costs, go ahead and support the police building right now, so that the contractor can start ordering whatever it is he needs to order in a timely fashion? Go ahead and do that. That will give this council and all the other representatives time to talk about (things like) 'do we have to put the fire department there right now?' The administration in the fire department is in a fairly good location right now. It's not the greatest, but it's in a much better facility than what the police department's in. We've got to get them out."
DuPree said while it would be a possibility to split the resolution, he would prefer the council to approve the entire project at once.
"Let's do it now at one time, and get it over with," he said.
Councilperson Deborah Delgado also said she was prepared to vote to approve the entire project at once.
"If we support our first responders, then it is time that we act like it and give them a healthy facility," she said. "I think we don't do them justice when we fail to provide them a healthy place to live, and and certainly, I am ready to vote for it."
Dryden agrees the council needs to support the department, especially to improve officer recruitment, but she also said she thinks the public needs a better explanation before the council approves such an expensive project.
"We really need to support our police department, and I am in hopes that we can recruit more policemen," Dryden said. "We certainly have wonderful policemen now. We just don't have enough. We need to recruit more, and I want them working in a safe place. I think the public needs to know, if we are taking on something of this magnitude financially, what our rationale was."
Bradley said the council will make some kind of decision on the resolution at its meeting Tuesday, May 3.
"If there's a fault here and a fault in how we did this, I thought we were pretty straight up and forward when we said $25 million," he said. "There should've been an agreement or a contract with that red line that said $25 million and that's it. You're going to build and stay within that. Well, we didn't have that. Whether we got a commitment that was doable or not, I don't know, but we had a commitment, I thought, for $25 million. Now you throw everything else on it, it's $38 million."