Craig resident Andy Bullen attended a Craig City Council work session Tuesday for just the second time in the more than 30 years he has lived in the city.
The 66-year-old Bullen was one of about 20 residents that attended the meeting. He hoped to find answers to some serious questions he formed after reading about negotiations between the city and Moffat County Commission concerning the Moffat County Public Safety Center. It was a measure he voted in favor of more than 10 years ago.
“As I started looking into it, I’m smelling dead fish,” he said. “This meeting tonight really gives me a good idea of where that smell is coming from.”
After the hour-and-a-half meeting in which the city council shared their opinions about the negotiations, facts about the taxing situations behind the issue and listened to audience feedback, Bullen said he knew what he needed to do.
“It is now incumbent upon me to start talking to the county commissioners and ask them for the same sort of clarity of information that I got here from the city council,” he said.
The county commission was invited to the work session but declined on the grounds their presence would “be distracting to the conversation,” according to an e-mail.
Craig Mayor Don Jones started the work session by explaining there was a simple reason the city council wanted to hear resident feedback on the issue.
“Maybe we are barking up the wrong tree here,” he said. “I don’t think so. I think we are all in agreement with what we said, but there is a possibility we are all looking at it wrong.”
The city and county began discussing last year what the Craig Police Department should pay in rent at the safety center due to a lease set to expire in August.
The city has received free rent at the safety center for the last decade in exchange for providing the land the center was built on for free.
During initial discussions, the county commission presented possible future lease costs, however, talks shifted from an annual lease to a one-time purchase price.
The city council rejected the county’s purchase price of $1.083 million and said they could not afford more than $736,120 for the police department’s 2,258 square feet of exclusive office space and 3,000 square feet of shared space in the center.
City Manager Jim Ferree explained the results of the sales tax situation created to pay for the building and other capital projects as approved by voters a decade ago.
“We experienced a loss of revenue of approximately $128,000 a year,” he said. “So, we have already, through the transfer of sales taxes, have contributed about … $1.15 million to the county.”
City Finance Director Bruce Nelson asked the audience if they “really want to pay rent on something we already own?”
Ferree said the council feels original documents from the safety center’s creation point to the city only being responsible for the operating and utilities cost of the police department’s space.
Council member Jennifer Riley seconded the sentiment.
“I think that it is clearly stated in memorandum of understanding, in the sublease agreement that the rent will be based on actual cost, which is the division of utilities and a portion of maintenance,” she said. “I think that is fair and I don’t think that the city has ever proclaimed that we want to be there for free and we don’t want to have to pay.”
Council member Terry Carwile said he wants to “do the best thing for the tax payer.”
“Forgive me if $900,000 plus dollars for a purchase price is giving me a little heartburn,” he said of a recent offer by the commission to split the purchase price offers from each side. “Forgive me if I don’t want to jump to a decision. We have until August … to come to an agreement on this thing.”
Bilodeau said his goal is to have “common sense prevail.”
“We did talk as a council about a sales price, and again remember that not one member of the council thought we should be buying the place,” he said. “I think almost all of us had heartburn about renting the place.”
The range the council would initially offer for the police department’s space ranged from nothing to the offered $736,120, which was “the best we could do,” he said.
Bilodeau said the city and county will soon start from scratch on the negotiations and “will have something done by August.”
“Sale price is dead in the water,” he said. “Now, we go back and start fresh from, ‘OK, let’s sit down and talk about our occupancy and paying our fair share of the utilities and the operation. To me, we are starting over and that’s fine.”
Perhaps one of the most pressing questions from the audience was what Aug. 1 — the day when the current lease expires — would hold and what the council’s plan was if negotiations weren’t settled before then.
“Without having negotiations in the last six weeks, I can’t answer that,” Jones said. “What will happen Aug. 1? I guess if the (police) chief is still in there, then I guess we wait. You know, kind of like a renter — we wait for an eviction notice and go from there.”
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