Fremont City Administrator Brian Newton asked the Dodge County Board of Supervisors, during its Wednesday board meeting, to consider collaborating in several projects.
Newton asked the board to consider helping the city fund the $20 million that was necessary to expedite construction of the Fremont southeast beltway project. He also asked the board to consider joining the city and the Lower Platte North Natural Resources District in developing a project to address flooding concerns around Rawhide Creek. And he asked the county to help develop a county-wide library card, which would allow Dodge County residents to pay a membership fee that would give them unlimited access to any library in the county.
He also unveiled a yet-to-be-approved interlocal agreement with the county that would begin the process of building a joint public service center — a justice center that would eventually hold both the Fremont Police Department and the Dodge County Sheriff’s Office and would also have available land designated for a potential new jail.
That agreement will come before the City Council during its Nov. 27 meeting and will then have to be approved by the County Board of Supervisors.
The board took no action on Wednesday on any of the items. It remains to be seen how deeply the county can invest in these projects given its tight finances: In the latest budget cycle, the county saw a nearly 30 percent increase in the tax request and a jump in the tax levy.
Budget concerns were driven in large part by a recently approved $11 million project with Motorola to revamp the county’s reportedly outdated public radio system, which officials have said poses dangers and gaps in communication quality for first responders like firefighters and sheriff’s deputies.
The county has previously voted to secure bonds up to $9.5 million to pay for the project, to be paid out at roughly $900,000 per year over 10 years.
Joint Public Service Center
Those financial considerations have already shaped the county’s involvement in the joint public service and law enforcement center.
If approved by both the city and the county, the agreement effectively locks in the county to pay $201,300 to help acquire a 12.2-acre parcel of land, located in the Fremont Technology Park, where the center would be built. It also commits the county to be part of the planning process.
But there is no further commitment to build out the project, Missel said, largely because the county is not ready to embark on an expensive new project due to its other financial commitments. Board member James Vaughan suggested it could be five or more years before the county is ready.
“Due to the Motorola project and the economic scale of that project … it’s caused us to have to bow out at this point in time,” Missel said. “But the board’s still interested, we have a willing sheriff and a willing chief of police and that’s a big part of it. We want to stay at the table, and basically the agreement … will acknowledge this collaboration to move forward, to acquire land and to look to the future. It’s not binding us other than the land piece of it.”
Newton said that the city will likely move forward on building a new space for its police department, “knowing full well” that the county sheriff may join them later.
“We had hoped to go together, it would have made a little more sense to go together for economies of scale, construction wise, but if it doesn’t work, it doesn’t work,” Newton said. “We just can’t wait.”
Estimates for the cost of a combined facility are at around $19 million, Newton said, but now that the project is likely being split, the estimates could change. And while there is no new jail in the plans, the acquired land would allow for one if it ever came to fruition.
The Fremont Southeast Beltway is a 3.2-mile-long, four-lane divided beltway that aims to improve traffic flow on the southeast side of Fremont.
Officials have said that the beltway will help accommodate growth spurred on by the Costco and Lincoln Premium Poultry project while helping to redirect truck traffic out of downtown Fremont.
The project is a $43 million state project, but the city of Fremont pledged to pay $20 million of that to move the project up. Originally slated to begin construction in 2024, officials now say that it will begin construction in 2020 and open in 2021. It’s currently in the design phase, with a public open house scheduled for Dec. 4 at the Fremont Learning Center.
Newton argued it was important to invest in the earlier start date because the project is expected to open two years after Costco’s project goes online and one year after it reaches its full production levels.
“So we’d have one year of pretty congested roads down there,” Newton said.
At Wednesday’s meeting, Newton asked the board to consider funding at least part of the city’s share of the project.
“This road goes through both city and county,” Newton said. “And I know your finances are tight, but people have asked, ‘where’s the county contribution to this?’ And so my ask is that you at least consider making something towards this.”
The payment was decided during negotiations between the city and the state. The city is funding the project with bonds. Newton told the Tribune that the city already has the funding set up and is not concerned about being able to afford its commitment, but that it was still hoping the county could contribute given the project’s jurisdiction.
When asked why the request was not made sooner in the beltway’s progress, Newton said that the city had brought it up to the county before, but not in the venue of a public hearing.
Supervisor Rob George, chairman on the finance committee confirmed that the city had discussed the issue with the county, but that the county had not been part of formal negotiations between the city and the state.
“To step in now, it’s a little different,” Missel told the Tribune.
Missel added that he would take the request to the finance committee for consideration, but cautioned that the county has to be mindful of its budget and recent expenditures.
Correction: This story has been corrected to accurately reflect the cost breakdown of the Fremont Southeast Beltway project.