By Doug Petrowski
Last week the Mountlake Terrace City Council voted to place a $25 million municipal bond measure on the April 23 ballot for the purpose of building a new civic campus for the city. The 30-year bonds would be paid off by an increase in the city’s share of property taxes within Mountlake Terrace. The council action was hardly a surprise; five of the seven council members had also sought voter approval of similar bond measures in November 2010 and August 2012. A sixth member voted to take the 2012 measure to voters. For just one councilmember, Bryan Wahl, this upcoming bond measure has been the first time that he has had to consider a tax hike while the elected office.
Wahl was sworn in to council position No. 5 last September, after the August 2012 bond measure had failed to receive the necessary 60-percent approval from voters for passage.
So what does Councilmember Wahl have to say about the latest bond measure proposal? Wahl made it very clear he is in strong support. “For a number of reasons, this is the right thing to do, and I’ll be voting yes,” he said at the Jan. 7 council meeting.
Wahl outlined three reasons as to why he voted to take the bond measure to the voters: fiscal responsibility, economic vitality and community advantages.
“Fiscal responsibility – this is not only the responsible thing for the city to do, but for our own taxpayers as well,” Wahl said. The councilmember cited figures from city officials that the cost of the civic center will be lower than the cost of renting office space in the city over a 30-year period. “You look beyond the 30- to 50-year or more period, we’re going to be saving millions of dollars on behalf of our citizens,” he added.
He stressed that he would like the city to utilize property it already owns, the lot at 58th Avenue West and 232nd Street Southwest, as opposed to continuing to rent facilities for city offices. “We’ve got this vacant land this is sitting there, that our former city hall was on, that is sitting there vacant,” he said. “We’re not using it. It makes sense to use that property.”
Wahl also said he’s worried about the threat of a property tax increase even without a new civic campus. “Even if we were to not pursue this bond measure and own our own facility, we’re going to have to continue paying costs somehow, somewhere, in renting a facility,” he said. “That’s going to increase our property taxes, for just continuing to rent, at almost the same level as it would cost to own.”
City officials are warning that to continue to pay the approximately $500,000 annual rent for the current interim City Hall at the Redstone Building, 6100-219th St. S.W., the city would have to find additional revenue (most likely a hike in property taxes) or cut some city services.
“The potential for either having to continue paying to rent a facility versus potentially having to cut services that we’re already been just getting barely by over the past few years because of the financial impact of the economy on our city, is making it that much more of a challenge,” Wahl noted.
Concerning the potential of a new civic campus jump-starting the local economy in some way, Wahl sees that as a possibility. “This city hall, the civic campus, will spur that economic development that we want to see in the rest of our community,” he said. “You need an anchor client to spur development,” adding that between the civic campus and the infrastructure improvements already in the works for the Town Center core, he can picture new development occurring in the downtown area of Mountlake Terrace.
Wahl also emphasized what he called “community advantages” that would come with a voter-approved bond measure in April. He listed improvements to the current police station and library, plus the new space for a community and senior center, that will benefit the city if funds are raised for the civic center project.
“We’ve got a first-class police force that is having to get by with third-class facilities, which is not fair to them, those that are serving our community. We’ve got to address that,” Wahl said. “Our library is going to need to have some updates at some point; it’s better to do it now through this measure. Certainly the community and senior center is a tremendous need and benefit to our community that we will be able to provide through this measure as a place to gather in the downtown.”
The city council will discuss a resolution of formal endorsement of the bond measure at their Wednesday, Jan. 16, work/study session. They will then take a vote on the endorsement resolution at their Jan. 22 council meeting. Both meetings will be held at interim city hall, 6100-219th St. S.W., Suite 200, beginning at 7 p.m. Time for public comment will be made available at each meeting.