The Dodge County Board of Supervisors voted on Wednesday to enter into an interlocal agreement with the City of Fremont to purchase land and participate in planning a Joint Public Service Center, which would house both the Fremont Police Department and the Dodge County Sheriff’s Office.
The 12.2 acres of land, located in Fremont’s Technology Park east of Yager Road and south of 32nd Street, also has enough space for a jail, should the county decide to build one in the future. The county agreed to pay the city of Fremont $201,300 to acquire the property. The price for the property was determined by an independent appraisal, which the county also reviewed ahead of Wednesday’s meeting.
The vote passed five to one, with Supervisor James Vaughan casting the lone no vote. Outgoing Supervisor Rob George was not present at Wednesday’s meeting.
Despite the vote, it could be some time before the county begins any real work on the site. The interlocal agreement is a “watered-down” version of an earlier agreement with the city, which would have committed both parties to get started on building out the project, said Board Chairman Bob Missel.
The county was reluctant to commit to starting any work, as its finances are tied up in the recently approved project with Motorola to update the county’s reportedly outdated public radio system for emergency services and first responders.
That $11 million project put the county into debt and contributed to a raise in the tax levy during this past budget cycle. The board feared that moving forward now on constructing a new public service center would only further strain the budget.
“We certainly don’t want any more increases in that [levy] number in the future,” Missel said during the meeting. “This approach is timely in that it secures the ground, it acknowledges the effort to move forward, but in that same breath it allows us to go to our piece of this build in the future when we feel that we can financially carry that.”
At the last Board of Supervisors meeting, City Administrator Brian Newton suggested that work on the city’s portion of the joint public service center would begin without the county, with the expectation that the sheriff’s office and potential jail could be added on later. The city approved the interlocal agreement at its Nov. 27 City Council meeting.
Board members have suggested it could be four or five years before the county embarks on such a project. It will take up to 10 years to pay off the debt from the Motorola project, though board members on Wednesday said they expect it will be paid out sooner than that.
The approved agreement establishes a governing board that will be in charge of planning the project. Per the agreement, it is the same board that governs the Joint Communications Center, which houses both the city and county 911 dispatch centers.
Those board members would include the county board chairman, the Fremont mayor, two members of the Fremont City Council and two members of the Board of Supervisors.
Discussion at the meeting focused on whether the site fit the sheriff’s needs and on the future of an unpaved road near the property — 32nd Street between N Yager Road and Luther Road.
Dodge County Sheriff Steve Hespen didn’t oppose the agreement, saying that the sheriff’s office had outgrown its current space and the property had been the chosen location since the beginning of discussions because it was a feasible location to make a joint city-county venture possible.
But he said that the proposed site, as it stands now, poses some accessibility challenges for the sheriff’s office that would need to be addressed. It would require better routes going either east or west, so that officers could avoid more crowded routes, like at the intersection of Yager Road and 23rd Street.
“We want to get out on the bypass in the quickest way possible and not have to go through the city to do that,” Hespen said.
Increasing access would likely require paving of 32nd Street.
“I want it clear that we’re not paying for that,” Supervisor Lon Strand said. “That’s a city street.”
Strand voted for the proposal only after it was clarified that passing the resolution wouldn’t lock the county into making any such payments, and that any decisions like that would need to be made by the governing body of the new center, which is split evenly between county and city officials.
Vaughan voted against the proposal, bothered that the county always seems to be “out of lockstep” with the city’s plans in terms of timing. As an example, he cited the Motorola project. The city upgraded its radio system in 2016, before the county.
That put the Fremont Police Department and the Dodge County Sheriff’s Office on separate systems, which officials say made it difficult for the two agencies to communicate with each other, ultimately contributing to the county’s need to upgrade.
Vaughan worried that pledging to the project now before being ready could put the county behind again.
“In 10 years, is that still the right plot of land? Will it have enough space? Will the city build with the intent of easily hooking on another section of the building?” he said. “I know we’re going to save some money by putting this together in good faith. I’m going to vote no on it because I can’t support not doing it in lockstep. I think our savings are chipped away little by little by not doing it together at the same time.”
At meetings with the city, an architectural firm concluded it was possible for the county to “add on later and still get the benefits of shared space,” Missel said. Additionally, going into the agreement now locks down space for a future jail — an important consideration given that new jails are traditionally difficult to locate, he argued.
“In entering into this agreement, accepting the land purchase, it does align us for the future as the potential for development arises,” Missel said.
In other news from Wednesday’s meeting:
- The board approved a request from Muller Farms Inc. of Scribner to obtain a conditional use permit for a new cattle feeding operation containing 999 animal units. The spot is located in Cuming Township, and received unanimous support from the Planning Commission ahead of Wednesday’s board meeting.
- The board approved an emergency item: a request from the Dodge County Attorney’s Office to apply for a grant through the Nebraska Crime Commission for $115,190 that would fund the salary youth diversion program coordinator, who works to divert youth from the justice system. The position has existed in Dodge County for three years. The item was considered an emergency because it was not originally on the agenda and required board approval before the Dec. 18 deadline, while the next board meeting is Dec. 19.