Expanded APD facilities may fall victim to state budget crunch

Benjamin S. Brasch
Bob Hallinen

By the end of the month, the Anchorage Police Department will have nearly finished the first phase of a proposed four-part, five-year, $108 million expansion project.

The initial phase expands APD's parking lot by 250 spaces at a cost of $2.8 million, for which the city has already received money from the state, said Stephen Miko, police resource manager.

For the next three phases, the city still needs to secure almost $105 million in state funds, and legislators do not sound optimistic about getting the money.

The three remaining projects and their price tags, according to Miko, are:

• A 30,000-square-foot to 42,000-square-foot heated facility to store vehicles from which evidence is being gathered, as well as specialized police vehicles like the SWAT van, bomb disposal vehicle and mobile crime lab, for $12.5 million would take one year to build.

• A centralized evidence storage building with office space, for $80 million. It would more than triple the city's evidence storage capacity. Construction would take two years.

• An extensive remodel and expansion of the police headquarters building, for $12.5 million. The two-year project would redesign the building to add 15,000 square feet of office space and make the lobby more inviting.

But two legislators said Friday they aren't confident there will be room in the already-lean state capital budget for a $12.5 million project that only leads to another $92.5 million in phases three and four.

Sen. Kevin Meyer, R-Anchorage, said Alaskans are used to multi-billion-dollar state capital budget surpluses being doled out for city projects, but a reduction in oil tax revenue is tightening capital construction budgets around the state.

"The problem we're running into now is that the state is kind of running out of money," he said.

Sen. Bill Wielechowski, D-Anchorage, said many worthy projects aren't going to receive state grant money.

"The taxpayers and the municipality are responsible, not the state," he said.

Meyer said Mayor Dan Sullivan and the Anchorage Assembly would have to make the police projects a top priority for legislators to consider them. So far, he said, he hasn't heard anyone advocating too loudly for even the second phase.

Sullivan and the assembly are now making a city capital project priority list, which so far includes the $12.5 million item, to submit to the Legislature in December.

Lindsey Whitt, Sullivan's spokeswoman, said the administration will do its best to get funding for all priority projects.

The current police headquarters, at 4501 Elmore Road, opened in 1986, to house about one-third of the people currently working there, Miko said..

The original plan was to expand the headquarters in 1996 to provide space for a training academy, vehicle storage and more room for evidence, said Paul Honeman, Anchorage assemblyman for East Anchorage and formerly a police officer and spokesman.

Over the past 30 years, he said, the department has continued to put a bandage on the problem of space and evidence storage without solving it.

Meyer said he knows there is a need for a redesigned police headquarters, but legislators are reluctant to give $12.5 million to project when they don't think they'll be able to give the remaining $92.5 million.

"We are a little reluctant to start projects that we know have different phases," he said. ". . . And that's a big price tag for sure."

Lack of evidence storage is a growing problem for police. The department currently stores evidence in three separate locations: in the existing police building and two other places police won't identify for security reasons, he said.

Miko said having evidence technicians drive around town to store evidence wastes gas and time. He said the furthest facility has evidence technicians driving 10 miles round trip almost daily.

"With a growing city and a growing department, it doesn't make sense that we stick our head in the sand and say it will go away," said Honeman.

Jennifer Castro, the current police spokeswoman, said she estimates APD is storing about 147,000 pieces of evidence.

"We're busting at the seams with evidence," Honeman said.

The new evidence storage facility would have 50,000 square feet and be able to store up to three times more evidence than the 33,000 to 40,000 square feet of evidence storage the city now has, Miko said.

Reach Benjamin Brasch at bbrasch@adn.com or 257-4349. Twitter: twitter.com/ben_brasch