Police chief: Woodland needs new station now

City voters being asked to approve 0.1 percentage-point sales tax hike

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The Woodland police station, built in the early 1970s, has outlived its life span, and Woodland voters are being asked to authorize the city to impose an additional 0.1 percentage point sales and use tax to build a new one.

Woodland’s police department shares its building with the city’s fire department and government offices. The building lacks space for conducting interviews and storing evidence, and the lone detective’s office is in a janitor’s closet. The department’s 12 employees work in a 1,000-square-foot space that has a single holding cell. When there’s a need to lock up adults of different genders or an adult and a child, one suspect is handcuffed to a bench.

“We have no place to do training, no place to interrogate people,” Police Chief Rob Stephenson said. “The only place we have to do it is the city council chambers.”

There’s also no place to store evidence, including hazardous materials, Stephenson said. “I don’t know how many times I have seen my guys with evidence stretched out on the floor of the squad room,” he added.

If the sales tax increase is approved by voters in the Nov. 8 election, 85 percent of the revenue would go to the city of Woodland, enabling it to borrow $2 million in construction bonds to be repaid over 25 years. The money would be used to build and equip a modern police station, complete with a multipurpose community meeting room.

The other 15 percent of proceeds would be split between Cowlitz and Clark counties and could be used to fund drug enforcement or toward other public safety purposes. The tax would expire after the cost of the building is fully repaid.

A tough sell

Stephenson knows the tax will be a tough sell in the current economic climate, but he says the problem of the antiquated station must be dealt with now, not put off until some future date.

“This time around, I told the city council that from a police perspective, we are beyond needing to do something here. A few of my officers are running around with tape measures trying to find room for another file cabinet,” he said.

A sales tax to support public safety makes sense in Woodland, Stephenson said, because “we serve a lot of people who just come through the city but still call the police. At least a sales tax spreads it out beyond just city residents.”

Kathie Durbin: 360-735-4523; http://www.twitter.com/col_politics; kathie.durbin@columbian.com.