After months of study and discussion, the Mountlake Terrace City Hall Advisory Committee on June 5 officially delivered its recommendation to the City Council for a new $11.6 million City Hall building.
Now it’s up to councilmembers to decide whether to accept the advisory committee’s recommendation, or make adjustments to before it appears before voters on the November 2017 general election ballot. The council will have the topic on its agenda for discussion throughout the month of June and into July, said City Manager Scott Hugill.
City Hall Advisory Chair Linda Rogers noted in her council presentation that the while the committee worked with the city and architect on conceptual designs, including a preliminary layout, for the new City Hall, design work would occur following voter approval of funding.
The main bone of contention continues to be whether to focus the November measure solely on a request for a new city hall at $11.6 million or to also include expansion of the city’s police department, which would cost an additional $1.8 million. The committee recommendation as presented June 5 would delay the vote on an expanded police station until February, based on a desire to keep the costs as low possible to appeal to voters.
Committee leadership noted the group was split on that idea — voting 5-4 to approve the city hall-only recommendation — and Vice Chair H. Stan Lake even submitted to councilmembers what he described as his “dissenting opinion” on the matter.
Snohomish County’s deadline for submitting a November ballot measure is Aug. 1. As a result, the council would need to take action by its July 17 meeting to meet that timeline, unless a special meeting is called, said Virginia Olsen, the City’s Community Relations Director.
The City of Mountlake Terrace has been renting its City Hall space at the Redstone building off 220th Street Southwest for years — at a cost of $40,000 per month — following a roof collapse in 2008 that made the old City Hall unsafe for employees. Three previous ballot measures — one for $37.5 million in 2010 and two more for $25 million in 2012 and 2013 — failed to reach the required 60 percent to pass a capital bond measure.
“Rent has put a substantial burden on the city,” Rogers said. In 2016, voters approved a levy lid lift to temporarily fund rent at Interim City Hall for four years while a new City Hall is planned and built, assuming voters approve it.
Advisory Committee Vice Chair Lake said that throughout committee discussions, members focused on the group’s mission created early in the process: “To develop an affordable concept design and cost estimate in support of new city hall at the Civic Center.”
One of the discussion points the group kept coming back to, Lake said, was whether the expansion of the police department was part of the mission to build a new city hall.
Another issue that the group spent a lot of time on was, “how frugal is frugal?” Lake said. “How much do we have to spend in order to spend enough and how much is too much.”
To review the space needs, committee members toured the police station and city hall in February and March, and Rogers and Lake also took a separate tour of the operations facility for public works and parks to look at options for additional space needs that could be accommodated there. City staff worked with consultant ARC Architect Rex Bond and subcontractor Tom Beckwith to conduct a space needs assessment, which showed a need of 19,762 square feet for new space plus 3,102 square feet for the police department, Rogers said.
Lake pointed out in his “dissenting opinion” that when it comes to space needs, he believes the final committee recommendation missed the mark. Currently, the city allocates 300 rentable square feet (RSF) per employee and that number is set to expand under the advisory committee’s City Hall proposal, he said. However, worldwide, 84 percent of all office space “is based on less than 300 RSF per employee and 57 percent of all offices purchase less than 225 RSF,” Lake wrote.
Lake said he believes that city workers could manage with less space — he suggests 250 RSF — and that reducing the City Hall square footage could reduce costs by 10 percent — thus allowing both the City Hall and police proposals to appear on the November ballot at a cost voters would approve.
“In this whole process, nothing I have seen justifies the need for our city hall employees such excessive amounts of space compared to the typical office worker,” Lake said.
After the presentation, councilmembers thanked the advisory committee members for their diligent work, which included numerous meetings including several across the city aimed at gathering community input.
Councilmembers also asked several questions related to the how the space requirements were determined and possible ways to address citizen concerns about making sure the police department was accommodated.
At the end of the meeting, Councilmember Seaun Richards recommended that the council place both the City Hall and the police department proposals on the ballot with the $13.4 million price tag. “It would cost the average homeowner about $83 (per year) and if you minus the $46 going towards the rent (for the current city hall), the difference is only about $37,” Richards said.
In 2021, property taxes will drop by 19 cents, as part of the Levy Lid Lift that was approved last year will expire. The measure only included money for rent at Redstone for the first four years.
— Story and photos by Teresa Wippel