With an Aug. 1 deadline looming, the Mountlake Terrace City Council at its June 15 meeting began its work to determine what type of City Hall proposal to place before voters on the November 2017 general election ballot.
City Manager Scott Hugill reminded the council that they have three options: 1) To accept the City Hall Advisory Committee’s June 5 recommendation for a $11.6 million, 19,210-square-foot proposal for a new city hall, 2) to “do something broader” and also include the much-needed police station remodel for a total cost of $13.4 million, or 3) to look at options for further reducing the size and thus the cost of the city hall — an idea presented as an advisory committee “dissenting opinion” — so that the police station remodel could be included at a lower overall price tag. A fourth option, to do nothing, really isn’t an option, Hugill said, noting that voters approved a levy lid lift for four years to cover the interim City Hall space that the city is renting for $40,000 a month. “We need to be out of here (interim City Hall) in 2020,” he said.
Snohomish County’s deadline for submitting a November ballot measure is Aug. 1, so the council must make a final decision by mid-July.
During its June 5 presentation, the City Hall Advisory Committee recommended delaying the vote on an expanded police station until February 2018, based on a desire to keep the costs as low possible to appeal to voters. Under the committee recommendation, the police station February vote is contingent on voter approval in November of the city hall measure.
Referring to the advisory committee’s dissenting opinion, which suggested that workers could manage with less space, allowing City Hall costs to be reduced 10 percent, Hugill said: “I think we are as tight as we can be and still have a functional city hall — to have meeting room for meeting with the public, meeting with developers, meeting with other government agencies, meeting future growth.”
Hugill pointed to the recommendation from consultant architect ARC regarding space allocation for the new city hall, based on the advisory committee’s work. You can review that allocation here. “If we don’t build it to that level, I expect that we’d have to add on to it in the not-too-distant future,” at an increased cost, Hugill said.
Councilmembers then took turns expressing their ideas, concerns and next steps for developing a proposal that can gain voter approval. 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.
“I’m still contemplating my thoughts on where I’m officially landing,” McCardle said. “We really need to have a city hall. That’s the main point, to be out of this renting.”
McCardle said he is open to discussing ways to further reduce city hall costs so that the money saved can be used to remodel the police station at the same time, “because I think overall that’s going to be the less expensive way to do both of these projects.”
Both McCardle and Councilmember Bryan Wahl asked if the council could get some help to guide their discussions, noting that an architect was present to assist the advisory committee when the conversation turned to square footage and calculations. “There’s all kinds of numbers and thoughts and theories,” McCardle said, “and we need an expert to help guide our discussion and our thinking when we talk about it, like the committee did.”
Councilmember Rick Ryan asked if further cost savings in the city budget could be used to fund the police station remodel so it could be added to the city hall proposal. “Is there anything else that we might have overlooked…that we could come up with some money from the city?” Ryan asked.
“I’m torn in a lot of different directions on this,” Councilmember Bryan Wahl said. “At the end of the day, all of it is irrelevant unless we get to yes. So no matter what it is that I may want or others may want or the biggest dream, we have to scale it back. We’ve got to get to 60 percent.”
Wahl said that while he’s inclined to accept the advisory committee’s recommendation, he noted that the committee’s 5-4 vote indicated there wasn’t consensus. “I’m very intrigued by the minority report and interested in looking into it,” Wahl said.
While the advisory committee “did a great job” reducing costs, Wahl said, there is potential “for whittling it down even a little bit more.”
“We’ve got to get both the police station and city hall done,” he added. If the city can save money doing both projects at once, “I think that’s something we need to look at,” Wahl said.
Councilmember Kyoko Matsumoto Wright said she favors “whatever it takes to get to 60 percent.” While it would be nice to do both the city hall and police station projects at once, the priority should be “all education, education of the public and without any confusion,” she said.
Noting that the earlier city hall project proposals were $35.5 million and $25 million, Councilmember Seaun Richards said he believes that “if we can educate the public,” voters will be willing to accept the much lower $13.4 million price tag if it includes the police station. “I’ve been hearing a lot of people say that if we pull the police station out, to them we’re not worrying about public safety first,” Richards said.
Councilmember Laura Sonmore said that she will be “tossing and turning” about the council’s final decision. It’s also important for the council to start considering what types of city budget cuts will be required if the city hall measure doesn’t pass, she added. “We can’t afford this (interim City Hall) rent,” Sonmore said.
Mayor Jerry Smith said he would like to know how long city hall construction would take, and how much longer the construction timeline would be if the police station were added. In addition, Smith said, the city needs to explore whether there are some current bond issues that may be paid off soon, since the city may be able to use that savings “to keep moving forward.”
Following up on Smith’s suggestion regarding bond savings, Wahl suggested that the advisory committee architect ARC review the committee’s minority report “and see if there is a way to reduce costs another 10 percent.” Through that savings, there may be a way to afford both city hall and the police station by “investing other city dollars to buy down the amount of the bond measure to be able to get us to yes,” Wahl said.
On the topic of further reducing the city hall square footage, McCardle said it was important to ensure that “on the day we open the building that we have room for growth.” A teacher at Meadowdale Middle School, McCardle said pointed to the school’s new building, opened in 2011. “The day they opened it, it was too small,” he said. “We’ve got to make sure that doesn’t happen with our city hall.”
Wahl said that one solution may be to to design the city hall “so it allows for growth, allows for expansion. So we save some costs now but not find ourselves in a position where we have to… start over again.”
At the end of the discussion, the council heard from citizens, including City Hall Advisory Committee member Vic Sood, who urged the council to proceed with the project as quickly as possible. Given the region’s growth, it will be increasingly difficult to keep the construction affordable as contractors’ costs increase, Sood said. “We’ve got to get it done,” he added.
Mountlake Terrace resident Margaret Loiseau told the council she has been on the record as strongly supporting a police station remodel, but doesn’t believe it should be contingent on whether the city hall measure is approved. “If that’s the way we’re going to play the game then I suggest you all look really hard at the alternative proposals and put them both out together and run with them that way,” she said.
— By Teresa Wippel