Hanford is getting a much-needed new fire station and part of Hidden Valley Park will not have to be sold to fund it.
At a study session held September 15, Hanford City Council directed its staff to put together a construction plan for a third station the fire department needs to decrease its response times. Construction will be funded using money already on hand, and a request for bids should go out by spring of next year.
“We’re probably about six months away from a ‘check-ready,’” said City Manager Darrel Pyle, responding to a question about when the council will have to reach for its checkbook. The time, he said, is needed to define the scope of project, which will be designed and built by a single firm, at 12th Avenue and Woodland Drive.
But the Hanford Fire Department will still be short on space even after construction is complete, and additional manpower will be needed to full-staff all the city’s stations. The final decision on the sale of the undeveloped portion of Hidden Valley Park also has yet to be made.
Three Options for Funding
Given the options of borrowing the money to construct the new station, issuing bonds at a similar interest rate or using “one-time monies” already on hand, the unanimous but reluctant consensus of council was the third option. Fire Chief Chris Ekk said the city has about $2.3 million it can put toward the project, including $617,000 in impact fees paid by developers for fire protection.
The remaining money will come from sources such as a $491,000 reimbursement from the state for services it requires cities to provide and $471,000 the city received in April of this year to settle a lawsuit against Kings County for the over collection of property tax administration fees.
The move will expend the one-time funds and deplete HFD’s impact fee fund, a move the Council saw as unfortunate but necessary. Ekk, however, said funding construction this way could actually speed up construction of a fourth station in the future.
“Using these one-time monies will set us up to build the next firehouse, and then we can explore a different funding option for that,” he said. “It’ll set us up for … five or six years down the road when the Costco’s sales-tax revenue is coming in.”
Building Quickly and Cheaply
Had the city decided to borrow the $1.5 million represented by the one-time monies, it would have saddled itself with seven to 10 years of monthly payments of up to $19,644 a month. Issuing bonds would have presented a similar repayment schedule and interest burden.
By spending money the city already has, the Council hopes to get the project moving quickly with a minimum financial impact for city residents.
“It doesn’t cost taxpayers money,” Mayor Russ Curry said. “It doesn’t cost us any interest rate of 2% or 3% on $2 million, (which) is a lot of money. We have the money. We can build it now.”
Design and Construction
Council was also presented with a trio of choices for managing construction, eventually opting to hire a single firm to design and build the project. This approach has the advantage of putting the architects, engineers and contractors on the job at the start of the project.
“Everybody’s in it from the beginning,” Ekk said.
However, the “design-build” method means little deviation can occur once plans are drawn and construction begun. Pyle said design-build has the advantage of allowing the city to set a firm limit on spending.
“How much fire station can we build without knowing what our final budget is?” he asked to emphasize the point.
Fire Stations No. 1 and No. 2 were constructed using a design-bid-build process, in which the architectural and construction firms are hired separately. That approach, Pyle said, can lead to cost overruns or scuttle the project entirely.
“We carry the risk that what the architect drew is more expensive than our budget when those bids come back to us,” he said. “As an example, we are sitting on a set of construction drawings that were put together for Fire Station No. 3 and Fire Station No. 4. They were beautiful drawings by a very qualified architectural firm. They just drew very expensive buildings for us to build, and they’ve been sitting on the shelf ever since.”
When the city considered building the smaller of those designs in 2009, the cost was pegged at $3.6 million, a sum it could not afford then or now.
The current proposal does not include funding for “soft costs,” such as radios, IT and furnishing the new station.
Other Problems to Solve
Even with a third fire station in the works, the Hanford Fire Department is not expanding.
“Relocating Station 2 to the new fire station is merely an exercise in ability to increase our response time and serve our citizens better than where we at now,” said Councilman Gary Pannett. “Just so citizens are aware, we’re not adding additional staffing with this. We’re not purchasing additional equipment. We’re just kind of relocating.”
Ekk said the department is running out of room at Station 1, and some equipment is being stored outside at Station 2. The new station will not include additional storage. The department is also in need of more administrative space, he said.
“Our prevention staff is already sharing offices,” said Ekk. “We’re running out of room.”
Additionally, Ekk says new firefighters are needed to fully staff three stations in the future.
“We’re not that far from fully staffing three stations,” he said. “It’ll be tight with three to four (additional personnel). Six would give us a good cushion to staff three stations.”
Hidden Valley Fate Undecided
Even though the direction taken by the council means the city will not have to sell the undeveloped portion of Hidden Valley Park to fund the new station, if the city will sell it is still not known. The planned sale has so far met with wide resistance from the public, as well as from the city’s Parks and Recreation Commission and the Planning Commission.
In August, the Planning Commission declined to reaffirm its earlier finding from 2013 that the 18.1 undeveloped acres at the park could be considered surplus, and thus available for the city to sell at the city council’s direction. That decision, however, may have been reached because the reports the commission received on the amount of land for recreational use in the city were inaccurate.
“During the meeting, the planning commission went over the numbers that were included in their staff report. Also, someone presented them with some alternative numbers,” said Community Development Director Darlene Mata. “It did get a bit confusing for them (the planning commissioners).”
Since the August meeting, Mata and her staff have been “refining” their acreage count. Currently, the city’s general plan calls for a ratio of two acres of parkland for every 1,000 citizens. The count Mata presented the planning commissioners at their August meeting was 126 acres, a number since revised upward to 153.79 acres, giving a ratio of 2.76 acres per 1,000 residents.
PC Decision Delayed
At the direction of the city council, Mata was to present her refined numbers to the planning commission and again request they uphold the earlier finding that would allow the sale of the Hidden Valley property.
The item was included on the commission’s agenda for its meeting on September 8, however, the issue was not discussed because it “was not fully and properly placed on the agenda,” said Hanford Planning Commission Chairman Steve Froberg. Froberg said the Hidden Valley decision would be taken up again by the commission at its September 22 meeting. That meeting was subsequently canceled due to a lack of other items to be considered and the absence of a commissioner.
The commission will meet again on October 13. An agenda for that meeting was not posted by press time.