CEDAR FALLS — City officials can’t put out the fire in Bill Bell.
The retired assistant Cedar Falls fire chief appeared at Monday’s City Council meeting to request they allow more time for public discussion on constructing a new public safety building.
“Does $11 million of taxpayer money on brick and mortar add any degree of additional fire or police protection?” Bell asked the council. “It does not. It is just a building.”
Bell’s appeal went for naught as the council voted 7-0 to approve plans for the new structure, to be build on the site of the existing south fire station near Greenhill Road and South Main Street. City officials hope to let bids on the project Dec. 5 and have it under contract at the Dec. 18 council meeting.
Bell is a longtime critic of the city’s public safety organization and utilization of cross-trained public safety officers in lieu of hiring full-time firefighters. On Monday, he took issue with the city’s arguments for the building.
“The main fire station (at East 18th and Main streets) is overcrowded. Why? Because you closed the North Cedar fire station and moved the equipment to the main station,” and ignored a recent petition to reopen it.
“The proposal relocated the main fire station, presently located close to the center of the community, close to the southern city limits,” Bell said. Much of the city’s recent growth had been in that direction.
He noted city officials said the main fire station is old, outdated and improperly ventilated. “However, as proposed it would be used as a substation,” he said. “Interesting.”
He noted city officials saved money over several years to build the structure without voter approval of a bond referendum. “All the citizens have seen is an artist’s concept of what it’s going to look like from the outside,” he said.
He asked the council to delay the project until after Jan. 1 when two newly elected council members are seated. “There should be a little more public input,” he said.
City Building Official Craig Witry said he and city police and fire officials have worked extensively to make the building as efficient as possible. “After the plans were developed I had my inspection team do complete plan review, code review,” to minimize change orders during construction.
“We have been and will continue to be good stewards of the taxpayers’ money,” Witry said.
Penny Popp, a resident of the El Dorado Heights, took no position on the building but said the city should address traffic congestion at the nearby intersection of Greenhill Road and South Main Street, with that and additional development proposed there.
Council member Nick Taiber said current fire facilities, as well police operations in City Hall’s basement, are inadequate, and fire and police should be under one roof in keeping with the city’s public safety approach.
“It’s an environment that I don’t think works for our new strategic shift here in responding to incidents,” Taiber said. “This is an investment long deferred.”