Story and photo by Doug Petrowski
Poised to approve placing a $25 million municipal bond issue on the April 23 ballot, the Mountlake Terrace City Council showed a feistiness in its discussion of the measure Thursday night and warned residents of the impact to the city if Proposition 1 goes down to defeat once again.
The council is expected to give its final approval to putting the bond measure on the April ballot Monday night at its regular meeting at Interim City Hall.
Proposition 1 would authorize the issuing of $25 million in municipal bonds to pay for design and construction of a new Mountlake Terrace Civic Center housing city hall offices and a senior/community center, remodeling and expansion of the current police station, and upgrades to the current library. The 30-year bonds would be paid off with an increase in the city’s portion of property taxes.
This would be the third attempt by city officials since November 2010 to gain voter approval for building a new Civic Center by bond measure.
In seeking a new civic center, “we’re not really looking at wanting everything, but what we actually need,’ explained Mayor Pro Tem Laura Sonmore.
The city currently rents office space for most city departments at a cost of approximately $500,000 annually. With current funds running out to pay rent, city officials warn that without financing the construction of a new city hall, either new tax revenue or cuts in city spending would be needed to continue paying rent beginning in 2014.
In a presentation to the council, City Manager John Caulfield outlined options the city would have to consider to continue meeting an annual $500,000 rent bill. “We would need a new revenue source from a property tax levy increase to continue renting and/or cuts to essential public services,” he said.
Possible cuts to free up $500,000 annually might include two police officers (savings of $275,000), neighborhood park maintenance ($256,000), athletic complex maintenance ($238,000), the code enforcement program ($200,000), the domestic violence program ($120,000), building grounds maintenance ($116,000), or the animal control program ($60,000).
Even with some cuts in spending, the council may still consider an increase in property taxes if the city doesn’t build a new civic center and, instead, continues to rent office space. “The taxes are going to go up one way or another,” concluded council member Seaun Richards.
Councilmember Kyoko Matsumoto Wright was most adamant about the need for voter approval of a new civic center. “I think we need to let the citizens realize that this is no longer a choice that we have, because we can rent, but they are going to have to pay for that too,” she said. “It’s not free. It’s one or the other.”
Matsumoto Wright continued: “We have a balanced budget, and we work very hard for that budget; we work very hard for a lot of things. I think the citizens of this city really don’t have anything to complain about when you come right down to it because they can always move to another city that has more problems. I think that I like living here. And we’re on the verge of getting a city that is the envy of the whole state, and I really, really want to be alive to see it happen.”
Councilmember Bryan Wahl said that building a new civic center “is the fiscally responsible thing to do,” saying it would become an anchor for new development in the Town Center district of Mountlake Terrace.
If placed on the ballot, Proposition 1 would require a 60-percent approval from voters for passage.
Prior to its vote on Monday night, the city council will conduct a public hearing on the plan to place the bond measure on the April 23 ballot. The council meeting begins at 7 p.m. at Interim City Hall, 6100-219th St. S.W., Suite 200.