Looking for alternatives

The lobby of Fruitland City Hall, as seen on June 9. Voters rejected a bond measure which would have seen the facility remodeled to expand the police department.

FRUITLAND — With unofficial election results as of June 3 showing the re-run Fruitland City Hall remodel bond measure being defeated with only 59% voting for the measure the second time around, city staff are now putting their heads together to come up with ways to make the building work for the city’s needs. 

“We are already working on other options that will be presented to the City Council within the next two months,” wrote City Administrator Rick Watkins in an email on June 4.

When asked what he thought contributed to the defeat, Watkins said a number of circumstances appeared to have worked against it at the same time.

“It is really hard to gauge the effect the [novel coronavirus COVID-169] pandemic had on the results. Though the tax levy rate for City of Fruitland actually shrunk 11% over the previous year, Fruitland properties had a pretty significant property tax bill increase this year; not unlike the rest of Idaho. I’m sure the reason was the fact the property values increased substantially year over year,” Watkins noted. “With the property tax bill, a pandemic, closed schools, working from home or not at all, and for dessert add a minor earthquake, some folks were just a bit jittery about taking on another obligation.”

Police Chief J.D. Huff  in an email update on June 5 said that while he is looking for ways to make space for all his officers, his strategy to keep the police department running smoothly hasn’t changed.

“We are looking into some options for temporary office space and I’m confident that we can continue to operate business as usual until a solution is identified,” said Huff.

As his officers regularly share desk space in the department, Huff says the pandemic has put his staff to the test.

“Social distancing is very difficult in this tight space, but we continue to rely on each other to maintain clean hands and workstations,” said Huff. “We have resumed our fingerprinting operations for those who are needing service, although we have asked that those needing fingerprinting call and schedule an appointment beforehand to prevent anyone from have to linger in a very tight hallway while waiting.”

With all this in mind, Watkins said the city plans to move bits around as deemed appropriate to help the Police Department out.

“The City Council and our city departments have always supported the Fruitland Police Department. We will certainly assemble projects that will take care of the police department’s needs, make repairs and modifications to the existing City Hall complex while striking a balance with the costs to complete each project.”

Despite the bond measure failing, Watkins expressed that he appreciated the community getting out their votes.

“With everything going on in people’s lives so far in 2020, we sincerely appreciate the citizens getting out to vote,” he said. “With the voting system being overhauled in mid-stream … the active voting percentage was actually higher than we expected. We thank everyone for voting their conviction and even though the bond did not pass, clearly the majority of voters from this and prior bond issues were behind making improvements to help the Police Department and City Hall facilities move into the future. We are here to provide the services our citizens expect and that will continue uninterrupted. Thank you for your continued overwhelming support!”

Huff, a Fruitland native, said the bond’s failure hasn’t shaken his commitment toward the greater good of the city.

“Regardless of the passage or failure of any measure, I will continue to work hard at making this a safe place for all to live, work and play.”

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