Q & A: Why so much for the fire department site?

There has been a lot of interest in this topic so I wanted to provide some additional thoughts on this topic.  Here is a note that I received.  As is always the case I respond to every policy related question or comment sent to me.  Here is most of the note:

Why does it need to be a corner that is very over priced. With the State continually cutting aid to cites, rochester poperty taxes increasing every year, home owners property values going down, people unemployed, anticipated forecloures for this year, groceries and gas at all time highs, I would like an explanation on why the City had to enter into a purchase agreement at this time for such expensive land, why so much land needed to be purchased, and why it needs to be purchased at this time when so many are struggling just to make ends meet.


I did go back and forth on this question and actually visited with Mike Nigbur between the Committee Meeting and Council Meeting to really drill down as to whether or not we should do this (as did Randy Staver).  The answer was yes.  Here are my thoughts.

  • I do appreciate your realization that we are having our aid cut.  In fact, 32% of all property taxes in Rochester are actually due to LGA cuts since 2003.  In that same period the city government has shrunk 17% per capita.  We are smaller and more efficient, but because of state cuts still see rising taxes.  Property values in Rochester have been essentially flat, but are down in some areas.
  • Here are some thoughts with regards to the expensive location.  Our number one priority for fire locations is response time.  WE need to cover as much area as possible within a 4 minute response time.  Years of analysis determined that this was the best location to achieve that.  Because it is a key location the price was high, but no more so than other parcels in the area.  I think that the land was over priced by maybe 15 to 20% but it was the best site.  If we can not buy the land from a willing seller we must use eminent domain which is far more expensive.  The two other parcels in the area had access constraints that made them less viable.
  • By choosing prime locations we actually save money over time.  In our discussions we were told that 20-30 years ago a city our size would have required 8 fire stations.  However due to better technology and obtaining expensive but well located sites we cover the city with 5 stations.  This is a savings of millions per year.
  • The site is 8+ acres, but I have already indicate to staff that I wish to minimize the portion of land that is used for public safety.  It is my goal to turn around and sell as much of this prime land as possible.  I think we should be able to sell 6 acres if we focus on it.  There are decisions to be made in the future about what to include besides a fire department and those will be heavily scrutinized.
  • Further, given the location, I would like to see us master design the site for mixed use transit oriented development.  I would like to see a design competition much like we did for the Minnesota Energy Site.
  • With regards to the timing, it is important to realize that this is a 100 year project and with a willing seller, a second bidder, and the proper location, it was time to move.  We will pay for this project over time.
  • These are my thoughts, maybe I am wrong, but I always welcome your input.

Hope this is helpful.

One last thought is that if we have a committee meeting at 3:30 to discuss and ask question and you don’t attend it, you shouldn’t be the person proposing to delay a decision because you have more questions.

One comment

  1. Your comments are factual, but you should add that when the original mastger plan for w circle drive and environs was done it should have included public facilities on the map. We need to do a far better job of getting things into the plans early when the price is low, or when they can be required of developers. Hopefully some body had this on their radar back then, the question is why did it not get into the process. I know that the easy answer if the possibility that the city would be forced to buy the land early, but that may be a far better choice then paying the later developed cost, after all a major reason why the new facility is need is development that occurred due to WCD.

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