LACEY – Local officials announced at the latest Township Committee meeting that they will hold off on plans to build a new municipal complex. The decision comes after months of analysis and public debate surrounding the project, which had been a focal point of township discourse.
The proposed complex would have included a new town hall, police station, and indoor recreation center aimed to address the township’s need for modern facilities and additional community space.
To achieve this, Lacey officials planned to partner with Johnson Controls Industries (JCI) for construction under a state program called Public Private Partnership (P3). This program allows municipalities to enter into agreements with private organizations for various aspects of large-scale projects, such as design, construction, and maintenance.
However, concerns about the project’s financial implications grew louder as estimates mounted and details of the P3 agreement emerged. A grassroots movement of residents voiced their opposition to the proposal, expressing concerns about potential tax hikes and the overall financial burden on the community.
“The committee has stated from the beginning, that if the numbers didn’t work with the budget, we would not move forward with the application,” Mayor Peggy Sue Juliano said. “Based on the state restrictions and the cap law, the affordability does not work within the 2% cap at this time.”
Generally speaking, state law restricts towns from raising taxes more than 2 percent per year, although some costs are allowed to be outside of that cap.
Juliano added that authorities intend to continue to explore various options to address the need for more space and the indoor recreation center. The newly selected mayor committed to holding public hearings on any proposals under consideration.
Veronica Laureigh, the township’s business administrator, confirmed that the municipality will be responsible for the first phase of the contract with JCI, the project developer. Laureigh did not supply an exact expenditure estimate, indicating she is awaiting invoices. The expenses are primarily related to engineering and design costs.
“Just to be upfront and transparent, so the public knows, we are on the hook for $243,000 for a project that did not move forward,” said Richard Bidnick, a resident who has been quite outspoken against the town entering into the P3 agreement. “Plus $35,000 for an engineering study – money that could have been used to replace windows in this building and other issues we have.”
“I guess you could say that this was a failed or waste of taxpayers’ money,” Bidnick continued. “A lot of people in our community got very upset about this, and hopefully, that also had something to do with the reasons you pulled back.”
One of the issues presented to justify the new complex was concerns about town hall conditions and the police department. Any proposed repairs will need to be authorized during the budget process. This could result in securing a bond to make the repairs after obtaining estimates and going out to bid.
Bidnick was one of the core organizers leading the opposition to the new town hall, together with Steve Bahrle and Gavin Rozzi, also Lacey residents. The three recently gave a presentation on the proposal and set up a social media page urging voters to “Stop the $100 Million Lacey Municipal Complex Deal.”
“I had a problem not only with the cost, but with the procedural irregularities in pursuing this agreement,” said Rozzi. “The proposal was originally acknowledged by a defective resolution in 2021 that was passed in violation of the state P3 regulations.”
Rozzi added township authorities were required to have a written policy governing how they would review unsolicited P3 proposals. He also said there were issues with redactions in documents produced under the Open Public Records Act, specifically relating to cost and design details.
Although the project had already been nixed, Committeeman Steven Kennis offered a summary of the proposal and its estimated dollar figures.
“Under our budgeting with Johnson Controls, we were working on a payment to Johnson Controls of about $3.2 million,” he said. “The goal was to get to about $2.7 million; a payment of $3.2 million would equal $434 on a $550,000 assessment.”
Kennis said the proposal called for a 51,000 square foot building housing a modern town hall and police station alongside a separate 54,000 square foot indoor recreation center. Amenities included a 100×100 turf field, a versatile gym with a regulation-sized basketball court that could be subdivided into two smaller ones, and dedicated classrooms. Completing the picture would be a sprawling “great lawn” reminiscent of college campuses.
According to Kennis, the justification for the P3 model came by shifting the risk and financial burden to the private developer, Johnson Controls, while allowing the township to avoid potential design flaws and cost overruns often associated with traditional construction methods.
“The current location of the town hall and police station, if left as is, results in a yearly loss of about $236,000 in property taxes,” added Kennis. “The estimated assessment for this property as developed is derived by splitting the assessments of the current Walters apartments which is $12 million and the Wawa shopping center next door – $4 million.”
“That’s about $1 million every four years,” Kennis concluded. “Money that should be going to offset costs both to our budget and more importantly to the school’s budget.”
Starting this year, township committee meetings will begin at 6 p.m. to allow for an earlier start. Lacey Township, previously known for allowing residents to speak without time limits during public sessions, will now limit speakers to five minutes each. Additionally, speaking from the room without authorization will be prohibited, ensuring a structured and orderly public session.
Furthermore, in a notable move, a police officer will now be assigned to attend all Township Committee meetings.