In 2020, the town of Buena Vista will look toward the feasibility of updating its facilities, especially those involved in public safety, the Buena Vista fire and police departments.
The need for new fire and police facilities was discussed among trustees at meetings throughout 2019, and, near the end of the year, the board budgeted funds to hire a consulting firm to help them determine the scope of what needs to be done, how to address those shortcomings and how to communicate those needs to the public.
“They are assisting us through a process that will include a facilities and needs assessment, looking at our current facilities and what our needs are now and in the future for our operations,” said town administrator Phillip Puckett.
After the failure of a ballot measure in 2018 that would have levied a lodging tax to fund capital improvements, the board turned to Wold Associates, a firm specializing in helping public sector entities.
“Not jumping straight into an election discussion, but really talking with the community about what people’s expectations are of those services and the realities of what comes out of that facility and needs assessment, what gaps do we have?”
Part of the assessment will include an analysis of a site on Gregg Drive near Public Works, which the town is eyeing as a potential new location for a facility that would house both the police and fire departments.
“We know that our facilities are not good and they’re lacking, but the community needs to know that,” he said. “I think it’s very important that we get this addressed because it is a matter of life, wellness, safety, not only for this community and our visitors, but for the people actually performing the job. So, something has to be done, this will just tell us how we get there.”
Puckett said that the process will hit a checkpoint, probably during the summer, where a committee of town staff, trustees and other volunteer members of the public will make a determination of how to move forward with the information gleaned from Wold’s needs assessment, which may be something like a tax increase that BV citizens would need to approve by vote.
“’Okay, now that we know what our facilities need, and a pulse from the community, do we want to put something on the ballot in November?’” Puckett said. “If that committee makes a recommendation to the board and the board says ‘Yes, let’s move ahead,’ then that will be put on the ballot and there will be a campaign for that, essentially.
“Of course, town can’t participate in that campaign. The hope is, if it’s very clear through the beginning of the process and the community’s involved, the community will take that forward. People will be involved to say ‘Yes, there is a need for this. Yes – whatever the ballot question may be – is a good thing for our community.’”
The goal of this process, Puckett said, is not necessarily to pass a ballot measure, but to reach a point where “I could tell you or hand you something and you could go ‘Yes, I understand that we’re deficient and it’s in our best interest to address that.’ That’s my goal for this year.”
Trustees discussed last year the possibility of bringing forward a sales tax increase to fund safety expenses.
In Puckett’s view, that would be a fair tax, since out-of-town visitors contribute substantially to Buena Vista’s sales tax returns, but also put increased pressure on the town’s safety services during the summer.
“I like the concept of them paying a share of the cost of those services as opposed to a mill levy property tax. To me, that just resonates. But I don’t know what the community thinks about that yet, which is why I don’t want to lead with ‘Here’s the kind of question we’re going to ask if this goes to the ballot.’”
Even if the path forward does include such a ballot measure, and even if that tax increase is approved, the question of how the town will pay for these expenses will also include grant funding and drawing from fund balance reserves.
While the primary goal is improving public safety facilities, the assessment will encompass all of the town’s properties, like town hall and the community center.
“It kind of becomes like a domino effect,” Puckett said. “If we move out of the PD space, that’s a nice building that certainly has a future use to it. Can we use that space for other town operations to alleviate some of the other concerns we have?”