IMAGE COURTESY CITY OF ORANGE CITY

As Orange City grows, so do the needs of its municipal government.

City leaders are seeking to build a new public safety center, another fire station and a public-works compound, while expanding the city’s sewer system to homes and businesses now relying on septic tanks for waste disposal.

“Our facilities in Orange City are deplorable,” City Council Member Jeff Allebach said. “Keep the project going.”

The total estimated price tag for these projects is $40 million — in today’s dollars that may inflate before the capital items are begun, let alone finished.

The multimillion-dollar outlays could be daunting, perhaps requiring an increase in taxes, officials say.

“It’s not a burden; it’s an opportunity to have services,” Allebach said. “Don’t be scared of that number.”

To help guide the city’s leaders in planning and financing the building program, the council has tapped Woodard & Curran, a Lakeland consulting firm, to look for ways to pay for the projects and to build public support for the effort.

Woodard & Curran is working with the city in what is now the “planning and pre-design phase” of the project, according to Scott Shannon, an engineer and member of the consulting team.

“I would imagine in a month or two, I will be back to the [City] Council with the progress,” he told The Beacon. “We’ll begin the process of filing grant applications.”

Shannon said his firm has identified several possible sources of grant funding from a variety of state and federal agencies. For example, to help pay part of the projected $8.5 million expense of building a new police station, Orange City may qualify for grants from the U.S. Department of Justice or the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. 

The city already owns land on East Ohio Avenue where the police station is to be located. The mostly cleared parcel was formerly a mobile-home park.

Woodard & Curran noted in the report given to the City Council that funding may be available from the Federal Emergency Management Agency or the Florida Division of Emergency Management if the city adds a new emergency-operations center.

In any case, building a new police station is a priority. Orange City’s police force is now cramped for space, forced to work in approximately 2,000 or so square feet. How much inside space do the officers and support staff need?

“Twenty thousand minimal,” Police Chief Wayne Miller said, referring to the minimum number of enclosed square feet of a new police building.

Miller said the existing facilities are so small that rape victims often lack privacy when sharing their stories with detectives.

A suggested timetable for the new police headquarters allows 600 days for construction, possibly beginning in June 2024.

“We really, really need it,” Mayor Gary Blair said.

To offset some of the $5.2 million cost of a new fire station in the eastern section of the city, grants may be available from the FEMA.

The police and fire stations will not be located together.

“Fire is going to be somewhere out off Veterans Memorial [Parkway], where the action is,” Shannon said.

The intended separation of the public-safety first responders prompted Allebach to observe the perceptions of the facilities and the people who work in them.

“Fire stations are warm and fuzzy. That’s where people go to get their [children’s] car seats put in. They get their blood pressure checked. The police station is where you take bad guys to put them in prison. It’s not warm and fuzzy,” he said.

The expansion of Orange City’s sewer system into parts of the city now reliant upon septic tanks has an estimated price tag of $25 million. City officials, the consultants say, may want to seek out funding from the federal Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S. Economic Development Administration, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and the St. Johns River Water Management District.

Not least, Orange City wants a new public-works facility, where equipment will be stored and maintained. Such a center will cost approximately $1 million.

Orange City’s leaders are planning to use the funding from the American Rescue Plan Act, the $1.9 trillion stimulus bill signed by President Biden last year.

As the federal, state and local governments, large companies, small businesses and individuals contend with rising costs, delays and lack of availability of key building supplies and labor, Orange City will join the moving herd of entities with money to spend. The city’s leaders are working to convince citizens of the need for the new infrastructure. The expenses that cannot be covered with grants may have to be financed with loans or bonds, which in turn may mean increases in local taxes.

“While the costs of supplies are rising, the availability of grant funding to offset some of these costs is as good as it’s ever been,” Shannon concluded.

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