Safford to save millions on new police department

Jon Johnson Photo/Gila Herald: The city of Safford will build a new police department expansion on the site of the old Graham County Jail. County employees have already begun to remove various items from the facility, including the storage units that served as office space and more.

Graham County also greatly benefits from trade deal

By Jon Johnson

SAFFORD – It is said that to tell when a compromise is really a compromise neither side is too happy with the deal. But what happens when both sides are generally pleased with the outcome? 

That’s what happens when partners work together for the betterment of the entire area and that’s what happened when the city of Safford and Graham County came together to make an exchange for the county’s former Sheriff’s Office and jail site.

In the deal that was approved in May by both bodies, the county exchanged the old jail site for setting a 25-year fixed water rate for use at the Graham County Fairgrounds to water the ball fields at $2.20 per thousand gallons while the normal industrial rate for businesses in Safford is $2.65 per thousand gallons. The county previously had a cheap water rate at the fairgrounds that expired about four years ago, and the idea of getting a new water-rate deal along with not having much use for the old facility spurned discussion. The county currently uses about 50 million gallons of water at the fairgrounds each year. 

The city will build a new, 6,000-square-foot facility on the property for its new police department. The $2.5 million project will also update the existing 4,400-square-foot building, which will continue to be utilized by the department. The new two facilities together are expected to easily service Safford’s needs for the next 25 years.  

“I think everybody pretty much agrees that this is a win for everybody,” Safford City Manager Horatio Skeete said. “I think it’s a creative way to solve a longterm problem that the city has been trying to address.”

Graham County Supervisor Danny Smith told the Gila Herald that what the agreement does – for the county – is to ensure recreational facilities for the area’s youth.

“The agreement will mention water/effluent/old jail property/new police station but, to me, the agreement was and always will be about our youth,” Smith said. “I applaud the Safford City Council’s partnership in providing youth sports fields for our residents”

Skeete said that Graham County Manager Dustin Welker – who previously served as the Safford Planning & Community Development Director – was essential in getting the deal done.   

Jon Johnson Photo/Gila Herald: County workers remove items from the old jail facility.

According to Skeete, the agreement also includes a commitment from the city to explore getting its effluent line from the wastewater treatment facility to the fairgrounds. If the city can afford to put in the effluent line, the county will guarantee to purchase $110,000 per year of reclaimed water or $2.50 per thousand gallons per year – whatever is greater.  

Skeete said the cost to put in an effluent line to the fairgrounds is estimated to be at about $3.5 million, which, in turn, would be paid back by the county paying to use the water. Currently, the city is finishing up a holding reclaimed water pond by the wastewater treatment facility and only uses reclaimed water at the golf course. 

“The plan is to use that $110,000 a year for debt service of the construction of the pipe so it will pay for itself – with some help from some other sources,” Skeete said. 

The first two priorities for reclaimed water use will be the golf course and the fairgrounds and the city will leave taps at the schools to use for their fields if any reclaimed water is left over. Currently, the wastewater treatment facility produces 19 to 20 million gallons per month. Any of that water that doesn’t get used at the golf course gets dumped into the Gila River, which the city does not get any credits for doing so.   

New Safford Police Department

The Safford City Council had been examining ways to build a new police department since 2000, with a variety of options placed before it throughout the years. The original building was built in the 1960s and initially served as an office for the Boy Scouts of America.

In 2008, the council put separate bond issues on the ballot to pay to build a new police department and a new fire station but both of them failed. At that time, it was estimated that a new police department would cost from $5 million to $6 million, and a new fire station about $7 million. 

By utilizing the adjacent property and updating the current structure, the city will save between $2.5 and $3.5 million on construction costs and will have a combined facility more than 10,000-square-feet. And funding for the new department and upgrade will come directly out of the city’s currently existing revenue (mostly from property taxes) and will not need any new source or tax. 

Tucson-based BWS Architects has been awarded a $322,386 contract to design and administer construction. The company has been involved in various police facilities in southern Arizona. There will no be individual bid packages, and BWS will handle the bids for contractors. Construction is expected to take between 12 and 16 months.

Jon Johnson File Photo/Gila Herald: The old police department will serve as evidence storage and will continue to house offices for detectives and investigators.

The new building will include a laundry room, meeting room, exercise room, and will have secretarial staff secured behind glass like was done at the county’s new adult detention facility.

By utilizing the existing adjacent property, Safford Police Chief Joe Brugman said the city was being the best steward for the public’s money.  

“Rather than building a whole new building someplace else, we’re going to maintain this building and use it in conjunction with the new one,” Brugman said. “The whole thing is designed for us to better serve the public.”

In addition to having a secure lobby, the new building will give the police space to handle interviews away from prying ears of the public, increase evidence storage abilities, and upgrade the look of the area across the street from Firth Park from the eyesore it currently is, according to Brugman.

“We have a problem (at the current facility) with sound carrying throughout – whether its interview with victims or interviews with suspects – it’s a real challenge to handle those things properly,” Brugman said. “We’ve had to interview victims in our kitchen.”  

Jon Johnson Photo/Gila Herald: The existing old jail property will be completely torn down and a new built-to-suit facility will be constructed upon its footprint for the new Safford Police Department.

The building itself will only take up a part of the old jail’s footprint, and additional parking spots will be created in the leftover space. Brugman said the outside will likely match the current facility and the inside could simply be a polished concrete floor. His office will be at the new facility to be accessible to the public. 

The current plan is to expand property and evidence storage at the current facility – which is currently maxed out with little to no space left to utilize – and keep the detectives and investigators there, while the new facility will house administration and patrol.  

“We’re excited about it,” Brugman said. “This has been a long time coming . . . We’re extremely excited and we’re extremely thankful to the mayor and council and to the community for letting us make this happen . . . This is a win, win for the county and for the city as far as the facilities here.”