For this blog post, I wanted to talk about what the process has looked like, so far, with the new firehouse for York. Prior to my time on the council, the decision had been made that the city of York needed a new fire station. Initially there had been studies to see what the cost would be to remodel and bring up to code our current station located downtown. It was determined that the cost to do this would be roughly 90% of the estimated cost to build new. With the land locked location of the current station, it was determined to start looking at other locations.
The city council had budgeted $500K towards the beginning phases of this project, from land acquisition, to engineering studies, to any other work that would need to be done.
After I joined the city council, I was able to participate more in the discussion. As the city council is a public body, the majority of all meetings are held pursuant to the Open meetings act. During my initial training session, I was able to learn in more detail, how that process works. There are a lot of rules and court cases that address the importance of the open meeting act, and procedures to follow. As part of that process, there are certain agenda items that can be deemed necessary to go into a closed session.
A closed session is not be open to the public. The governing body (in our case the city council) must vote in the affirmative by a majority of the members to go into the closed session. This closed session is very limited in scope, in that we may only talk about the subject matter as published publicly and approved in the vote. In order for a matter to be deemed necessary for a closed session, in must be for the protection of the public interest or for the prevention of needless injury to the reputation of an individual and if such individual has not requested a public meeting. Both the subject matter and the reason necessitating the closed session must be part of the motion to close. If at any point during the closed session, the conversation shifts from the publicly declared and approved subject matter, any member of the council can, and must, challenge the continuation of the closed session. If that occurs, the council would have to vote to overrule that challenge, otherwise the closed session would end, with the results of the vote and the challenge being recorded in the minutes.
This brings us back to the fire station conversation. The city council voted a few times to go into closed session to discuss this matter, as certain items were deemed necessary for the public interest. This type of consideration usually comes up when talking about real estate purchases and contract negotiations. No official vote can be made in the closed session. That is why last night (4/6/2023) the city council had an agenda item to approve Ordinance 2347 during our open meeting to approve a purchase of the real estate for the fire station. We approved the purchase for $325K. The current understanding is that we will take possession of the property next April, but we can begin using that time for the various studies/engineering/design work/etc.
The property we're purchasing is located at 1714 N. Lincoln Ave. There were multiple considerations taken into account about the best location, one station vs two, new vs remodel, etc. before ultimately deciding on this location. The plan is to raise the current structure at that location, and build a new station that meets code, and allows us room for future expansion. This location helps address concerns of crossing the railroad, access to the north side of York, access to the residential sections of York, access to the interstate, and the continued needs of a growing, thriving, community. Roughly 90% of the calls that York Fire and Rescue go on are within the city limits of York, with the remaining 10% being interstate calls.
As we move forward, we'll begin discussing design elements, budgeting, probably bonding needs, etc. We'll see what we're able to pay for with cash the city currently has, what will need to be budgeted for in future years leading up to construction, and what will be the long term need. We'll also begin discussing what the future goals/use of the current station will be. I look forward to hearing public input as sessions are held to have these conversations.
Overall the use of the closed session process is generally very limited, but there are specific use cases where it is necessary to hold one. Since no formal vote can be held in closed session, it is important to come out of the closed session, into open session, to take any formal action, so the public is aware of the decisions of the governing body. This process of discussing/purchasing real estate for a new fire station is a great example of the balance of needing closed sessions and open sessions during the conversation.