The Howard County Council unanimously approved legislation Monday night to lease additional space for the police department after County Executive Calvin Ball introduced a bill last month.
Much of the monthly voting session was spent discussing CB4-2020, which enters the county into a 10-year agreement to lease 32,028 square feet at the Oracle Building, 7031 Columbia Gateway Drive.
“Initially, this could definitely have an effect on our debt limits, debt covenants and future bond ratings, and I feel like at this point we really need to have further conversation about where the best place is to put the people that need a better home than they have right now,” said Council Chairwoman Deb Jung, suggesting the council table the legislation in favor of more discussion.
Jung’s efforts failed and the council proceeded to discuss the matter and eventually vote.
At the legislative work session on Jan. 27, Police Chief Lisa Myers described the legislation as a seven- to 10-year stopgap.
“Our Northern District station is overcrowded," Myers said during the legislative work session. "[For example,] our community outreach building, which is a relatively new building, by the time it was built and occupied we were already at capacity. With the addition of new employees, we need more space.”
Myers said the space at the Oracle building would house a number of sections of the police department, including the chief, deputy chiefs, human resources, public information, records, budget and fiscal, and planning.
During the Jan. 27 meeting, the council discussed the idea of moving the police department into 81,000 square feet of vacant space in the Howard County Public School System building, Ascend One in Columbia, a space the county already owns.
“I didn’t think this at the work session last week, but it looks like we’re getting a pretty solid deal on this building because it’s a single-tenant building,” Councilman David Yungmann said of the Oracle building.
According to the legislation, the 10-year lease begins with a base rental rate of $24 per square foot, which escalates yearly at a rate of 2.5%. The lease can be renewed twice for five-year periods.
“I love the fact that this council was tough on the lease,” Yungmann said. “This is the second most expensive lease we have in the county, but I’m told by a couple of brokers that the deal we have here is a pretty good deal.”
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Council Vice Chairwoman Liz Walsh said she was concerned about entering into a long-term lease funded by general obligation bonds.
“If it were anyone but life-safety-type forces that we were putting into that lease I would not be so amenable to moving forward so quickly without more scrutiny,” Walsh said. “I see an immediacy here that I can’t get around.”
Councilwoman Christiana Mercer Rigby said the legislation highlighted an area for the county’s Spending and Affordability Committee to look at moving forward to figure out how to simultaneously meet the county’s needs while using county-owned resources.
“We are either going to have to build a third district police station, which is going to cost significant money, or we have to do a lease,” Rigby said.
Yungmann said he hopes in 10 years that the county can build its own facility.
“Perspective: $900,000 is the debt service on probably $12 [million] or $15 million in bonds. That’s why we’re talking so long about basically what amounts to an office lease, because it’s big dollars,” Yungmann said.