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Vernon Hills weighs police department renovations, sales tax increase

Most remodel would target building 754 Lakeview. Roughly 20 years old property was home department's dispatching operations. | File

Most of the remodel would target the building at 754 Lakeview. Roughly 20 years old, the property was the home of the department's dispatching operations. | File

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Updated: February 19, 2014 4:21AM

Vernon Hills could put an estimated $3.6 million into renovating the police department’s two buildings.

As the village starts to craft the 2014 budget, officials are considering a sales tax increase to cover the remodel, road construction and other capital projects. The increase could also offset the loss in revenues from a sales tax rebate to developers of Westfield Hawthorn mall.

Most of the improvements — at a cost of $3.5 million — would focus on the former home of the department’s dispatching center at 754 Lakeview Parkway.

Police Chief Mark Fleischhauer says the property is outdated and underused. New workstations for officers and watch commanders would be built in repurposed areas. The investigation divisions would also see two more interview rooms and additional storage, under preliminary designs.

“We’re just out of space,” Fleischhauer said.

The current structure opened about two decades ago. A two-story, vacant lobby, in particular, drains utilities, the chief said.

“It was beautiful when it was designed, but over the years, things have changed,” Fleischhauer said. “Our needs have changed. Our technology has changed. And that’s what’s driving a lot of these physical changes.”

Although Fleischhauer admitted the price tag is “expensive,” officials say the project is cheaper than a substantial addition.

A total of 800 square feet could be reclaimed, Assistant Village Manager John Kalmar said.

Next door, the village is looking to spend an estimated $900,000 into the department’s other building at 740 Lakeview. One major change would add a new employee entrance to the north end of the site.

New changing rooms would allow dispatchers to get into their uniforms within the building, also containing the public entrance to the police department.

Trustees will consider whether to issue bonds or dip into reserves to finance the work. They have not signed off on the remodel, either.

The village board also is reviewing a raise to the sales tax rate — from 7 to 7.25 percent — as another funding option.

The talks are set to begin in January.

As a home-rule community, Vernon Hills would not need to seek voter approval to hike taxes on sales transactions.

The increase could help defray the loss in sales tax dollars from the lucrative incentive package to Westfield Hawthorn developers.

The village is expected to begin funneling the rebate in 2015, when both a 12-screen AMC theater and Dave & Busters are up and running.

In June, trustees approved a payout that could climb to $13 million over the life of the deal. The tax break, officials say, enables developers to invest $50 million into a 110,000-square-foot addition and interior upgrades to the shopping center along Route 60.

In the last three years, Vernon Hills has backed six other rebates to lure developers and support projects in a suburb known as a shopping destination.

Vernon Hills charges no property taxes to the village — a source of pride for leaders and a large result of substantial sales tax revenues.

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