By DAVID GREEN
Plans to move Morenci’s police station and recycling center to the back of Wakefield Park remain alive after a motion to rescind the decision failed Monday by a 4-3 vote.
City council members voted June 8 to approve moving the police station to the former NWD building, but the action has been discussed at several council meetings since then.
Councilor Keith Pennington cast the only “no” vote when the move was approved in June and he introduced a motion to rescind the decision at the council meeting Monday.
Pennington reiterated his three reasons for opposing the move.
“I don’t want to lose the opportunity to rent the facility to a start-up business,” he said. “I’d hate to lose the shared staff between the police department and city hall. I’m not crazy about the location on a dead-end street in an industrial area.”
Council member Tracy Schell said she has not heard negative responses to the move and she addressed several questions about the move that were previously submitted to council members by a resident.
It was noted that only a small portion of the building would be needed for the police office and garage and the recycling center. The questioner asked what would be done with the remainder of the space.
The storage area on top of the offices would be used for police records, Schell said, and space not needed for the recycling center would be used to store Department of Public Works equipment and materials that are currently stored outside.
Another question asked if the existing recycling center was inadequate.
Schell said it is inadequate because it lacks rest room facilities and that it is not convenient because users must drive down an incline from Baker Street. In addition, she noted that a fork lift truck must be driven from the DPW garage behind the park to the recycling center whenever cartons of materials must be loaded onto a semi-trailer.
Another question asked about the cost of converting the NWD building to a recycling center in light of the need to partition the police area. That cost is not known.
Schell spoke of the need at city hall for additional office and storage space, and she said someone is interested in buying both the recycling center building and the existing police garage across from city hall.
The NWD building has remained vacant since a business closed last year.
“If there was interest in the building,” Schell said, “this never would have come to the table.”
Mayor Doug Erskin pointed out there has been interest shown recently in renting the NWD building, but city supervisor Barney Vanderpool said the space was larger than what the prospects were seeking.
Audience member Jan Sampson criticized council for rushing the process out of committee and to a vote without first presenting the idea to the public.
Schell agreed that should not have been done, but she added, “that doesn’t make the decision wrong.”
Council member Leasa Slocum said she presented the idea to several people where she works and the majority doesn’t care where the police station is located.
“Did you tell them how much it would cost?” asked audience member Tim Decker.
The cost isn’t yet known, she said, but because changes in state regulations will force changes in Morenci’s police station, she favors taking what she believes to be a less-costly approach rather than face a major project later.
“It doesn’t mean we’re going to do this tomorrow,” she said. “We might rescind it after examining the costs.”
Police chief Larry Weeks said he and volunteers have cleaned in the NWD offices and he bought a pair of desks with money from the state “drunk driving fund.” No refurbishing work has been started and doesn’t intend to do anything until council makes its final decision.
Pennington was joined by Art Erbskorn and Mayor Erskin in voting to rescind the motion. Schell, Slocum, Greg Braun and Jason Cook voted against the motion.