In Durham, there’s a lot of municipal crossover, but this week my life covering the city and county collided once again as the Board of County Commissioners held a special meeting to discuss the new Durham Police Department headquarters on East Main Street.
Why? Because the county’s emergency communication office will be housed in the complex, much like it currently is in DPD’s West Chapel Hill Street HQ. Because the city and county share some services, they have an inter-local agreement to help determine who pays what. This isn’t new. The county commissioners have a memorandum of understanding with the school board, too. But part of the problem that is now arising is that maybe the inter-local agreement should have been renegotiated a while ago.
But here’s the deal: the city of Durham has been hard at work convincing residents that the Durham Police Department needs a new headquarters. If you’ve been in the 505 West Chapel Hill Street HQ, you’d know that the space is less than impressive and is in dire need of at least a new elevator. But the new HQ, slated for East Main and Elizabeth streets, would offer the department space for almost everything. However, the price tag is lofty—$71.3 million.
East Main Street has already become a focal point for government buildings—the county administration building is on the 200 block and other county-related buildings are on the 300 block. The Health and Human Services Building is on the 400 block, and that big surface parking lot on the 500 block is county-owned.
The 911 call center will be located on the fourth floor of the building (this is where the county comes in). There will also be eighty parking spaces dedicated to those who work in the call center in the parking deck associated with this building. The price tag for the 911 portion of the building is $13.9 million. The county is being asked to kick in about $2.9 million (roughly 21 percent of that total).
That cost allocation piqued Durham County commissioner Ellen Reckhow’s interest.
“I know we have a longstanding agreement of twenty-one percent,” she said during a commission meeting on Monday. “I actually had suggested several budgets ago that we revisit that, because the current proportion of people within the county that live outside the city limits is just under fifteen percent. The twenty-one percent is a figure that was applicable a dozen or so years ago.”
Based on Census data, the estimated population of Durham County in July 2015 was 300,952. For the city, that estimate was 257,636—meaning city residents make up 85.6 percent of the county population.
Reckhow says the biggest issue for her is the allocation formula, because a few years ago the county was “substantially under that formula. We were under the twenty-one [percent] substantially … and now we’re under fifteen. So to take a capital project of this size and assign us based on a formula that has been operative for the last decade, I don’t know if that’s being fair.”
Jim Soukup, director of the Emergency Communications Department, says that, including the radio maintenance staff, there are eighty-eight people in his department. He says the parking space allocation was based on a couple of scenarios, including a worst-case in which everybody is working twelve-hour days.
“You have to have employees coming in and out, and there’s also planning for growth and expanding our employee bases as the population of Durham continues [to grow],” Soukup said.
In non-emergency situations, the staff will have staggered schedules—meaning that traditional peak call times have more people on, Soukup explained. If there was a city- or countywide emergency, everyone would be called in, and shifts would change at 6 a.m. and 6 p.m.—meaning twelve-hour days.
The presentation to the county commissioners on September 12 came just a few days after the city council received an update on the project. There’s work being done to include public art as well as including some history of the DPD in the lobby.