Lexington voters to decide on tax levy override for new police station

2022-06-15 11:28:36 By : Ms. Shirley Hu

Is a new police station worth the higher property taxes needed to pay for it? That’s what Lexington voters will decide in their special election on June 6. 

Lexington town officials are asking for an override to the state’s Proposition 2 ½ law — which limits annual property tax increases to 2.5% of assessed value of all taxable property in town — to cover the $33.5 million price tag a new police station is expected to bring. 

“In order to have adequate room for the current police department, we need a much larger facility,” Lexington Town Manager James Malloy said. 

The funding was almost unanimously approved by Town Meeting members in March, 174 to 1. 

The town’s existing police station consists of 13,060 square feet and was built in 1956. The town and its police department — there are now about 65 employees in the police department, about double the number as there were in 1956 — and officials say the station is only big enough for about 70% of the current size of the department. 

The station has been renovated several times over the past five decades, according to town officials. In fact, the town erected 400 square feet of shipping container space for outdoor storage because the station was so cramped. 

“It’s just to store stuff outside. It’s not office space or for evidence,” Malloy said.

The town website has a calculator with which residents can see how much their individual property tax would increase if the override passes. 

The average single family home would see an average of $204 increase a year in property tax, from $258 in the first year to $149 the 20th year. 

The new police station has been discussed for more than a decade. 

A study ordered by the town in 2011 showed that Lexington’s police station would need to be more than doubled in size — from 13,060 square feet to about 30,000 square feet — to fit the town’s needs. 

At a Special Town Meeting in 2016, voters approved funding for a feasibility study for a new station. And two years later, at the town’s Annual Town Meeting, members approved funds for design and engineering services for another expansion of the existing station. 

“In 2018 they were trying to make a determination of whether or not we would be building an entirely new building or leave two walls of the existing police station, tear everything else down and build out from there,” Malloy said.  

When town officials looked into a partial rebuild of the existing station, they found it didn’t make sense financially. 

"The elevations were going to be all messed up and everything, and it would be better just to start from scratch,” Malloy said. “And by doing that, we’re able to achieve some of the town’s sustainability goals." 

A new station would also be able to have ground-floor access right off Massachusetts Avenue instead of down the station’s driveway, Malloy said. 

The project was put on hold in 2020, after the death of George Floyd and resulting nationwide protests. The Select Board felt there needed to be conversations with different community groups to discuss how the community and the department can move forward together. 

“Then in August of 2021, the Select Board felt that we had sufficiently had those community conversations and that people were comfortable moving forward with it at that point in time,” Malloy said. 

This year, a Special Town Meeting approved $33.5 million in funding for the design and construction of a new police station. 

And now it’s in the hands of the voters. Lexington’s special election will be on June 6 with polls open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m.