Marble Falls chooses site for new police department
CONNIE SWINNEY • STAFF WRITER
MARBLE FALLS — After 25 years in a repurposed electric utilities building, it’s time for the Marble Falls Police Department to think about finding a new home.
“We outgrew this facility. We’ve converted closets to office spaces over the years. We’ve done a lot to make it work for us,” Police Chief Mark Whitacre said. “It’s a time for us to make a move.”
Since moving into the former Pedernales Electric Cooperative space in 1990, the agency’s staff has at times more than doubled over the years, depending on budget allotments.
“Staff at the time was about nine sworn officers, a staff of about six in communications and two others,” he said. “Currently, we have 31 full-time employees.”
The Marble Falls City Council agreed something should be done and on June 16 approved a new site for the agency.
“It boiled down to two sites: the Avenue N site, which we’ve been discussing and has been on the table for a number of years, and then the other site over off Mormon Mill, the old Anchor of Hope Church,” City Manager Mike Hodge said. “When we looked at cost of new construction versus renovation, it was only about a couple hundred thousand dollars’ difference, so the decision was to go ahead and move forward with the new construction.”
The former Anchor of Hope Church facility, 906 King Road off Mormon Mill Road, is a 16,000-square-foot building on six acres.
The chosen site in the 700 block of Avenue N, adjacent to Marble Falls Fire Rescue, is comprised of 2½ acres with no structures.
“(The selected site is) co-located with our fire department, and it ties in with some redevelopment we’re trying to do in that part of town,” Hodge said. “Ultimately, we’d probably have to do some additional acquisition of property but probably not in the near future.”
The city has earmarked pre-approved bond money for the project.
“There’s about $3 million that’s part of that budget,” Hodge said. “There’s a need for additional funding, so part of the charge from the council is to work through the budget process and identify additional funds that might be available for that
“Depending on the scope of the project, half a million dollars (more) is what we’re thinking right now,” he added.
The sale of the current Main Street space could result in additional revenue for the project, Hodge said.
An architect to design the facility could be selected sometime in August. Bids could go out as early as the middle of 2016, according to Hodge.
As part of the proposal, officials will consider moving the municipal court out of city hall, 800 Third St., and into the public safety building.
With a new public safety facility, the city also could discontinue a lease on a space, just off Commerce Street, being used by the agency to store law enforcement vehicles and equipment.
A centralized location for the police agency would not only provide more space for the agency but offer expanded crimefighting tools.
“Patrol officers have very little space. They have some cubbie holes they work out of. (Criminal Investigation Department) is obviously the same way,” Whitacre said.
“The biggest issue we have is dealing with the public when they come in and want to report a crime. We have no interview rooms. A lot of times we just meet with them in the lobby,” he added. “We do dispatching service for three communities. That’s the biggest area we need some growth in.”
Despite the space crunch, the agency has continued to protect and serve the public.
“But we’re still taking care of business with the citizens out here in the community,” Whitacre said. “We still have an outstanding clearance rate in dealing with the crime rate in our community.
“We haven’t seen a big uptick, but don’t take it as we haven’t seen an increase in crime,” he added. “The bottom line is we’ve been able to deal with it effectively where we maintain an overall 40 to 50 percent clearance rate with the crime that we do have.”