Provo asks voters to approve a $69 million bond to fix a crumbling city center

PROVO, Utah -- Chief Rich Ferguson walks through his police department, pointing out all the problems.

In the tiny lobby and hallways, crime victims have come face-to-face with suspects. Ceiling tiles are missing or stained from leaky pipes. His lieutenants and sergeants have offices in converted broom closets. In one room, body cameras charge on power strips daisy-chained together.

Provo Mayor Michelle Kaufusi and Deputy Mayor Isaac Paxman look up at broken ceiling tile in the Provo Police Dept. (Photo by Ben Winslow, FOX 13 News)

"Currently, we have about 55 officers that are in our patrol division. The workspace they have is 182 square feet," he told FOX 13, sounding a little chagrined.

Evidence is stored wherever there's free space, including a former shooting range and jail cells no longer appropriate to put anyone. In one room where crime scene evidence is stored, they recently had a sewer leak. Fortunately, it did not compromise any cases.

"Mold, flooding, leaking is unacceptable in any police department anywhere in the United States," the chief said.

The Provo City Police Department has been graded as "failing" and it poses a safety danger to its own officers in the event of an earthquake or other disaster, the city acknowledges.

Next door at City Hall, Mayor Michelle Kaufusi took FOX 13 out to a courtyard to show an area blocked off by caution tape.

"It is falling apart! We have got structural damage, the overhangs are all leaking. The ground is cracking," she said. "We’ve literally had to lock the doors and not let the public come up here anymore."

Provo Police Chief Rich Ferguson, Mayor Michelle Kaufusi and city hall staffers inside a converted evidence and storage room. (Photo by Ben Winslow, FOX 13 News)

Mayor Kaufusi and members of the Provo City Council are pushing for voter approval of a $69 million bond to build a new government complex next door to the current one. Years of age and previous administrations kicking the can down the road have taken their toll.

"I get it. When is it a good time to go for a bond? Never," she said. "It’s never a good time. So I can understand previous mayors saying let’s stretch five years, let’s try and make it work for a few more years."

Built in 1972 at a cost of $3 million, Mayor Kaufusi said the current city hall was only supposed to last 20 years. It's been about 50 now.

"Now we’re to the point where it’s completely in failure mode. And there’s nowhere else to go except to rebuild," she said.

The bond would add about $10 a month on the average property tax, Mayor Kaufusi said. She'd like to see the new city hall -- if approved by voters -- last another 50 years. The city considered relocating to a vacant department store property at Provo Town Center Mall and other spots, before deciding on an open spot next door. The current city hall would be torn down or sold, the mayor said.

An artist rendering of the new Provo City Hall. (Image via Provo City)

"We’re preparing for 50 years. We’re going to do some shelled in space so if growth comes, we’re ready and it’s not going to cost the citizens anything," she said.

But tax hikes are not an easy sell. Voters are usually loathe to approve them, at least initially. At a recent hearing for the bond, public comment was mixed. Residents acknowledged the need for a new police department and fire station, but questioned the multi-million dollar cost.

"Is there no other alternative for all citizens of Provo to help pay the cost of this bond over time, rather than just property owners? I think it’s unfair to put the cost of the bond and the city services and everything else this is going to fund on the backs of just property owners. I think a sales tax option or something else need to be considered," said one man.

Another fumed at the cost (he estimated it would cost him about $50,000 extra over the next 20 years).

"I can’t believe there’s not 400 people here," he said, gesturing to an nearly empty council chambers. "I cannot believe that. I don’t think the people understand what it’s going to cost them!"

But Mayor Kaufusi said when she shows people the cracks spanning several floors in city hall or the leaky police department, she wins them over and they see it's not a want, but a need.

Chief Ferguson feared what would happen if the bond failed in November.

"Figure out Plan B fast," he said. "We’re in failure mode."

More information on the Provo police, fire and city facilities bond can be found here.