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Red Bank City Manager Chris Dorsey dodges rusty fingerprint ink cans, hanging ceiling insulation and termite-ridden records as he considers what's left of City Hall.

"I just know every time I try to find something, I'm told it was washed away in a flood," he said.

Heavy rain apparently swept court documents down Dayton Boulevard in mid-1990s flooding. Those pages are long gone and nobody seems to know how many.

"Sometimes we don't know what got lost," Mr. Dorsey said. "That worries me."

Termites also munched through city ledgers after they crawled in from a nearby creek about 10 years ago, officials said.

"I just saw a bird fly through," Mr. Dorsey said as he stood recently in a storage building, kicking aside an unlabeled box sitting near an old television, dusty videotapes and rolled-up maps from the city's 1954 incorporation. "Here's some insurance documents, some stuff from 2004."

Red Bank officials acknowledge they're way behind the times. Two separate buildings that house 36 employees from the city's administration and police department are "nowhere near suitable" to run a government, the city's manager said.

The disrepair trickles down to a portable fan cooling the city's computer servers in lieu of proper climate control. Criminal interrogations take place in a converted closet that doubles as a detective's office. "Back in 1967, none of this stuff existed," Mr. Dorsey said, pointing to a tangle of computer wires. "Government was a lot simpler back then."

Within 30 days, city officials will meet with an architect to begin planning either a new building or an expansion to the existing City Hall. No decision has been made either way, nor have any specific plans been developed for exactly what would be built or repaired.

Mr. Dorsey estimated a total renovation cost at about $1.5 million, saying it would take the city about 20 years to pay back a full loan for that amount.

garage evidence

Several interviews with police officials reveal an undeniable lack of work space and unsafe working conditions.

"We have 23 officers that are basically running over each other trying to get a place to work," Red Bank Police Chief Larry Sneed said. "We need space."

Beyond the fact that officers have work desks underneath stairwells and in closets, it takes two policemen to open a heavy door housing an auxiliary garage for stolen property from theft crimes.

"Everything from recovered property to evidence from burglaries and crimes in there," Detective Sgt. Steve Hope said as he turned a rusty latch. "And as you see, we have files from the '80s stuffed in the mix."

Chairs and bicycles are cluttered on bowed shelves as Sgt. Hope glanced inside. Finding specific evidence can be a challenge, he said.

"I know where it is, but it's very hard," he said. "I just happen to know where it is."

City officials note the delicate nature of the sergeant's remark.

"What if you got sick?" Mr. Dorsey asked the detective.

planning ahead

Red Bank officials say they must fix the sweeping problems inside their "high-tech" facility, as Mr. Dorsey joked.

In the last two budgets, the city's Board of Commissioners earmarked about $170,000 and $100,000 in anticipated costs to pay back a potential loan for construction. The money hasn't been spent because the project hasn't started.

Red Bank's general fund, which compiles city property taxes, sales taxes and photo-enforcement revenue from the city's traffic cameras, will finance the renovation when it happens, officials said.

The city's political wing seems to understand the severity of the situation.

"The police department is grossly crowded," said Red Bank Mayor Joe Glasscock. "I intend to lobby our City Commission for some type of improvement."

Mr. Dorsey said he was worried about lost city documents as they pertain to public records requests.

"We are very serious about switching records to digital, but it costs money," Mr. Dorsey said. "There's so many things that I'd love to do, but you've got to have money to do it."

But Vice Mayor Monty Millard wasn't enthusiastic about a tax increase to fund a digital transfer or any other renovations.

"We'll do everything we can to avoid a property tax," he said. "I'd rather see our revenue go up from the existing sales tax."

Mr. Dorsey wasn't willing to comment on the motivations of current commissioners, but he said past officials may have been more focused on keeping low property taxes "rather than running a government." He said it's taken too long to consider new digs for city government and the police department.

* 1967 -- Year City Hall was built

* $1.5 million -- Estimated cost for renovation

* 20 years -- Estimated time it would take for city to pay back a $1.5 million loan

* 2005 -- Year of last Red Bank property tax increase

Source: Red Bank city records

Red Bank last increased property taxes by 23 cents in 2005, records show.

"If you're trying to hold the costs down in the city, sometimes your infrastructure can suffer," he said. "We had first-line police vehicles with over 250,000 miles on them."

In separate interviews, Mr. Dorsey and Chief Sneed repeated several times that, to hold down costs, the city would purchase only the "bare necessities" for operations.

A serviceable building represents a major step toward "trying to work on our image," Mr. Dorsey said.

Noting that there are 61 vacant commercial spaces in Red Bank, he said fixing City Hall should be a priority.

"We're wanting businesses to invest here," he said. "If we don't make an investment in Red Bank ourselves, who else will?"

Continue reading by following these links to related stories:

Article: Red Bank moves forward on city hall renovation

Article: Red Bank committee looks ahead

Article: Red Bank seeks rebirth

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