In 2004, Escondido residents approved Proposition P, a bond measure that gave the city $84.3 million of property-tax revenue to upgrade police and fire facilities. The projects included the construction of a new police and fire department headquarters as well as four new neighborhood fire stations.
At the Wednesday, March 25, meeting of the Escondido City Council meeting, assistant city manager Joyce Masterson updated councilmembers on the status of the projects.
The gist of that update: Prop P funds are running out, fast.
Since 2004, the price tag for the 115,000 square-foot police and fire headquarters has jumped from $50 million to over $60 million, despite cutbacks made to the size of the project. Even the $60 million figure isn’t set in stone. Masterson says three bids have yet to be awarded, estimates for furnishings and audio and visual equipment were “not properly budgeted,” and it’s still possible that more change orders can come in.
Shortly after Prop P passed, city fire officials scouted out some locations for new neighborhood stations. One of those, the future site of Fire Station 6, was located on private property -- at Del Dios Road and 11th Avenue in western Escondido.
City officials approached the owner of the 4.7 acres and offered to buy some land for the new fire station. No deal. So, Escondido officials initiated eminent domain proceedings over the entire parcel, with an idea of turning the rest of the land into a community park.
So far, the city estimates they will need a total of $2.7 million to acquire the land and over $500,000 in outside legal fees (which continue to accrue).
In an effort to preserve Prop P funds for use toward the police and fire building, at the Wednesday meeting, Masterson outlined a proposal to split up the fees according to lot usage. Because the fire station occupies one-third of the land, only one-third of the cash will come from Prop P funds and the rest would come from the city’s park development fund.
But there’s not enough money in that account.
To date, the park development fund has shelled out over $2 million for acquisition of the land, with a remaining balance of $718,000.
According to the proposal, the parks department would be responsible for paying two-thirds of the legal fees, forcing them to borrow $331,000 from the general fund.
“I think all of us would agree that when finding a park site, we would never buy a site that required eminent domain,” said mayor Lori Holt Pfeiler. “And so the legal fees that are incurred because of eminent domain are directly attributed to the fire station.”
Councilmember Sam Abed also opposed taking money from the city’s general fund to pay for the legal fees. “The pressing need for our finances is the budget: $331,000 is a lot of money these days.”
After some deliberation, the council voted unanimously to use Prop P funds to pay the legal fees and to use $7 million of interest accrued in the $84.3 million to help fund the police and fire headquarters.
For more, go to ci.Escondido.ca.us.