A new City Hall, a new recreation pavilion, and a new city website were all points of discussion for the Mountlake Terrace City Council at a special Saturday work/study session on May 17.
The council and various city officials met for more than four hours discussing the city’s financial state and how to pursue possible capital projects in the near future. At the top of the list was a new civic center that would house City Hall offices and a remodeled police station; and while all at the meeting agreed that such a facility was needed, there was no consensus as to how to pay for such a project.
The city has put three municipal bond measures before voters since 2010 in order to raise tax funds to construct a new civic center, but all three have failed to win the necessary 60-percent yes vote for passage. There was some thought of putting together another attempt for the November 2014 general election, but city officials ultimately nixed that idea in favor of more study.
“Government is a messy job; you have to know when to hold them and know when to fold them,” said City Manager Arlene Fisher in her opening statement to the council at Saturday’s meeting. “And that goes with a city hall plan. Is this a good time, or is there a better time?”
The city council not only decided that this fall is the wrong time to pursue a public vote on the issue, but they expressed interest in considering other funding options that may be available. “I don’t think we want to throw this together that fast,” advised Councilmember Doug McCardle. “If this is our last shot at this, we better take our time.”
“We need to take a look and re-scope the project,” McCardle added.
City leaders noted that some circumstances in the community have changed even since the last Proposition 1 bond measure was turned down by voters in April 2013. While the plans for a civic center then included space for senior programs, now the city’s senior group is leasing space at the former Ballinger Clubhouse and a new civic center design could be scaled down in size accordingly.
But Fisher also warned that the overall cost of a new civic center may have to be adjusted up simply because of time. “The cost estimates we have now are three years old,” she said.
Mountlake Terrace Police Chief Greg Wilson expresed some concern in taking more time to study different options for civic campus funding, noting that the police station has current needs to be addressed, such as office space, the roof and HVAC equipment, staff lockers and furniture, and more strict state and federal standards for law enforcement agencies.
“The longer we draw this out, the more we’re going to have to put into this (station) to maintain it,” he said. “The facility’s on its last legs.”
The first of the three recent bond measures for a new civic center in November 2010 was to have raised $37.5 million through an increase in Mountlake Terrace’s portion of property taxes; that proposal failed at the polls with only a 47-percent yes vote. Later propositions in August 2012 and April 2013 received 56.8 percent and 53.4 percent respectively, with 60 percent required for passage.
In addition to discussion about funding a new civic center, the city council also took a long look at how the city may pursue paying for a new recreation pavilion.
The Mountlake Terrace Recreation Pavilion, located at 5303-228th St. S.W., is the centerpiece of the city’s Recreation and Parks Department and hosts a myriad of swimming and recreation programs. But to continue the current level of recreation programming offered by the city, a new facility may need to be built in the next decade, said Public Works Director Curt Brees.
“We are nearing the end of that building’s life,” Brees warned. “No longer will the beams support the structure. No longer will the plumbing meet its needs; no longer will the electrical system meet its needs. We are in the last five to 10 years of that building’s life.”
While Brees stress that the public’s safety is not in danger, he noted that the city is currently only providing need maintenance to the facility in order to keep it operational. Doing so costs the city $450,000 annually, with 75 percent of the 2014 building maintenance budget already spent for this year.
The Mountlake Terrace Recreation Pavilion was built in 1965, then went through major remodeling of the pool area in 2003.
Replacing the pavilion could cost “$18 million on the low end, $30 million if built on a grand scale,” Brees said. The city has no specific funds set aside for such a project. The revenue source that received the most discussion on Saturday was the creation of a new taxing district – a Metropolitan Park District.
With the creation of a park district, a board of commissioners (most likely the Mountlake Terrace City Council is the Metropolitan Park District uses the same boundaries as the city limit lines) could institute as much as a 75 cents per $1,000 of assessed value on property tax for an indefinite amount of time. Such a tax collection could bring in $1,350,000 annually in the City of Mountlake Terrace, Brees explained, and could be used for recreation and parks operating and maintenance expenses, or construction of new capital projects, including a new pavilion.
The creation of a new Metropolitan Park District could only be done by obtaining simple majority vote in an election. Various city council members were intrigued by the option, but no immediate action for putting such a measure on an upcoming ballot seemed to be in the works. “We focus on city hall, but we get our ducks in a line so that we could go down that road if we ever get to the point that we want to pursue it,” suggested McCardle.
The council advised city staff to look into preliminary estimates of what a new recreation pavilion would cost using the Lynnwood Recreation and Pool as a model.
Other subjects discussed at the Saturday work/study session included the current positive financial state of the city, the early status of Main Street improvement plans for 236th Street Southwest and 56th Avenue West in the Town Center District, and the possibility of the city developing a new website for its outreach, communication and online ability to serve the community.
— Story and photo by Doug Petrowski