After months of research, negotiation and frustration, Milton officials have settled on a way to free empty space at the city’s activity center from federal restrictions that have blocked the police department from moving in.
The city plans essentially to buy out the restrictions for roughly $180,000.
That means the department, which today operates out of cramped space at City Hall on Laurel Street, should be able to move into roomier quarters at the Milton Activity Center next door.
It should happen within the next few months.
“We’re happy. Very, very happy,” said Debra Perry, mayor of the city of 7,000 people straddling the Pierce County-King County border. “It took a lot of work from a lot of people.”
The activity center is roughly 30 years old and was built using grant money from a federal program that helps pay for projects mainly benefiting residents with low to moderate incomes.
The city’s senior center takes up part of the building, and the other section was filled by a Pierce County Library location. Both met the grant criteria.
But the library relocated early last year, leaving about 2,300 square feet vacant. City officials hoped to move the police force into the space, but it didn’t meet the criteria.
City leaders were left feeling stuck. They said they don’t have other programs to move into the activity center and have no alternate space for the police department.
The police headquarters at City Hall are crowded enough that patrol and reserve officers share three workstations, while the detective and sergeant split an office that also serves as the interview room.
The city worked on options with federal and county officials. At one point, Milton leaders thought it might be possible to transfer the grant restrictions to the Milton Community Building on 15th Avenue. But that didn’t work out.
They also didn’t think the city could afford to remove the restrictions by paying market value for part or all of the activity center building.
However, a recent appraisal came in lower than anticipated, said Subir Mukerjee, city administrator.
The City Council this week approved using a mix of state criminal justice funds and a loan from the city’s electric utility to cover the $179,500 price tag. The city also plans to spend about $95,000 to repair the activity center’s roof and do some remodeling.
The city will pay back the utility fund over five years using money from the general fund.sara.schilling@ thenewstribune.com 253-552-7058 blog.thenewstribune.com/street @TNTschilling