The Public Safety Complex, a project years in the making that would provide a new home for Hattiesburg Police Department and municipal court, will soon get its initial funding, as Hattiesburg City Council members voted unanimously Tuesday to issue general obligation bonds in the amount of $45 million for that facility and other possible upcoming work.
Of those bonds – which are to be sold to the Mississippi Development Bank – no more than $27 million is expected to go toward the safety complex, with the remaining amount available if needed for other municipal projects.
Mayor Toby Barker said the $45 million is the maximum amount the city can issue in bond indebtness without raising taxes, and will provide the city flexibility to issue more series of bonds if the council chooses to move forward with any other major transportation or infrastructure projects.
“By setting the potential bonds in the maximum amount – not just enough for one project, not just at $27 million or $32 million – we can actually maximize the impact of what we’re going to do now, without raising taxes,” he said. “However, I want you to know that if we embark on any additional projects other than police stations or fire stations, it’s our administration’s position that these need to be projects with at least a 30 to 50-year life span.
“These need to be game-changing projects. And we know that we have some very particular needs in that category, but we are not, any more, going to issue long-term debt to do things like just pave streets. We can meet that need by smart budgeting and fiscal discipline.”
With the city’s audits for Fiscal Years 2015 and 2016 now completed – and Fiscal Year 2017’s audit expected to be completed this fall – officials are hopeful to restore the city’s bond rating with Moody’s, which was suspended last year because of the late completion of the Fiscal Year 2015 audit. If so, the city can go on the bond market to finance the Public Safety Complex, and a groundbreaking at the site could be held early next year.
Barker said he’s also taken into consideration the construction of the upcoming Fire Station No. 9 on U.S. 49, as well as the rebuilding of Fire Station No. 2, which was destroyed by the January 2017 tornado that ripped through the area.
“At the same time, we also recognize that we paid off debt this year, and we’ll pay off the last of our general obligation bonds in 2022,” he said. “So if there was a time to consider a large, future-changing project other than those public safety projects, it is now.”
The Public Safety Complex project, which has been discussed for the last several years as a solution to the police department’s aging facilities, took its first official step in September 2016 when municipal court moved from the James Street site to its temporary location in the former federal courthouse on West Pine Street. That move was followed by the Parks and Recreation Department, which moved from Katie Avenue to a new location at Tatum Park, allowing HPD’s dispatch to move temporarily into the Katie Avenue Building.
LIFE of Mississippi, which was located adjacent to the former HPD building, then moved into a new location on West 7th Street before HPD staff moved into their temporary location on Klondyke Street.
Some time after demolition on the James Street site is finished – minus the hospital section, which will stay intact – construction will begin at that location on the Public Safety Complex. That process is expected to take about four years, at which point HFP and municipal court will move into the new facility.
In addition to new digs for the police department and municipal court, initial plans for the Public Safety Complex included a new facility for Hattiesburg Fire Department administration, which is currently located on Corinne Street. But after the cost for the project rose from an estimated $25 million to as high as $40 million – with a cap of $32 million in between – Barker proposed scaling back the project, including starting without the fire administration building.
“The estimated price tag grew over the past several years as more ancillary facilities were added to the plan,” he said. “But when this council and this administration took office last summer, we began to study on ways to scale back the project so that it would meet the needs of our police department while being affordable on our residents and not tying the hands of future administrations and city councils.
“So we have taken this project back to its original intent: a new police station and municipal court facility. In addition, our intent – subject to council authorization and approval – is for this project to bid out instead of doing certificate of occupation.”