The controversy over a proposed public safety center for Raleigh continued this week, with Mayor Charles Meeker revealing how he hopes to get the project support and Wake County Republican Chairman Claude Pope Jr. calling for voters, and not the council, decide if they want the building built.
Three of the eight members of Raleigh's City Council came up with another idea this week about what to do about the the Clarence E. Lightner Public Safety Center.
In a two-page memorandum, councilors Thomas Crowder, Bonner Gaylord and Russ Stephenson, asked city staff to figure out how much it would cost to renovate the current police headquarters at 110 S. McDowell St. and build a new emergency communications center just for 911 dispatchers.
"At a time when some are calling for burdensome tax increases and others are calling for painful sevice cuts, we believe there is a middle path that is responsive to our long-term emergency services needs -- without raising taxes or overshadowing other important current and future needs of our citizens," the three wrote in a letter to the rest of the council and Raleigh City Manager J. Russell Allen.
The proposed Lightner Center had been in the works for years, but catapolted into the public arena once Allen unveiled the proposed way to pay for it -- by bundling it with $250 million worth of public works projects and raising property taxes by 8 percent.
If built, it would house police administrators and detectives, fire adminstration, the emergency communications center, traffic management staff and the city's information technology department.
The Lightner Center, named for the Raleigh funeral director who served for one term and was the city's first and only black mayor, would be 17-stories high and 300,000 square feet. It'd be the biggest, and most expensive, city building.
There's little about the building that hasn't become controversial, with differing opinions from different city political corners weighing in on whether its needed, what it should cost and who should decide if the public safety center should be built.
The most controversial aspects have been the proposed tax increase to pay for the
building, a call to have the decision to build decided by voters at in
a citywide bond referendum and original plans to include up to $705,000
in public art in the project.
The request for a tax increase comes in the midst of an economic recession, and Raleigh's entire council has gotten hundreds of e-mails protesting the project, or asking to delay the project until the economy gets better.
Many of the opposition letters were identical, and appear to be a push from conservative quarters that think the issue should be decided by voters and not by city councilors.
Mary-Ann Baldwin, one of the council members, said she doesn't think the plan rolled out by Crowder, Gaylord and Stephenson meets the needs of the city, and reiterated that hte current 50-year-old bulding is falling apart and not suitable.
Raleigh Mayor Charles Meeker, who wants the project to go forward in order to cash in on what he says is $50 million in savings, hopes it will still pass, but with a different funding scenario. Some of the remote operations projects can be delayed, and the cost of the building might be able to be absorbed by impact or facilities fees. Meeker also asked that the art budget be narrowed to a third of the size.
The council has avoided taking action on the Lightner Center three times this year, and it's expected to be back in front of them at their next meeting on Feb. 16.