Vote kills Raleigh safety center

March 1, 2010 9:00:00 PM PST
A 4-4 tie vote effectively killed Raleigh's plans for a $200 million 16-story safety center Tuesday.

While most everyone agrees the Raleigh Police Department has grown out of its old headquarters, there have been lots of critics of the proposed Clarence Lightner Public Safety Center - particularly the proposed property tax hike that would be needed to pay for it.

Mayor Charles Meeker - who supports the building - offered some options to make it more palatable to opponents - including postponing some public works projects associated with the center to lower the overall cost.

That apparently wasn't enough to sway a majority of the council. Voting in favor of the project were Mayor Charles Meeker and Council Members Mary-Ann Baldwin, Nancy McFarlane and James West. Voting against were Council Members Thomas Crowder, Bonner Gaylord, John Odom and Russ Stephenson.

The tie vote Monday means it can't go forward.

"Going back to square one now will end up costing more delays and more money," McFarland said.

Perhaps the most pointed comments came from Baldwin. She criticized her colleagues who'd supported the project for years, but changed their minds in recent months.

"I'm appalled and very frustrated by this," she said.

Raleigh's police chief has been a vocal advocate of the Lightner Center and with it all but dead in the water, he's not happy talking about other projects that may be delayed as a result.

"We have such great needs and when I see the delay here or the change in direction, I also look at the fact we need a police academy," Raleigh Police Chief Harry Dolan said. "We need bona fide police districts that we're still waiting to design and build, so it puts a lot of projects on hold, not just the public safety center."

The 300,000-square-foot building would have put the headquarters of the city fire and police departments under one roof. The 911 call center would have also been included.

But critics questioned if that plan made sense, and wondered if it wouldn't be more cost effective to renovate or expand current buildings.

"We never looked at this in the context of what we can afford and what we need as a city as a whole," Gaylord said.

Meeker defended the building saying it was necessary and that the current economic climate meant it could be built more cheaply than if the city waited for the economy - and tax revenues - to go back up.

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