$12.5 million City Hall ballot measure including police station to appear before voters in November

City Council hears from a member of the public during a special meeting Thursday.

The City Hall proposition to appear before Mountlake Terrace voters this November will be at a slightly higher price tag that initially expected – $12.5 million.

However, the higher price tag will include a 3,000-square-foot Police Department expansion, an element that was initially removed by the City Hall Advisory Committee in order to keep the total project cost down.

The council approved the amended measure 6-1 during a special meeting on Thursday night following a discussion among council and some comments from the public. Councilmember Doug McCardle was the dissenting vote because he preferred the lower project cost of $10.998 million, which was the direction provided by the City Council last week.

Thought the ordinance that was passed Thursday is a slightly higher amount than the $11.6 million recommended by the City Hall Advisory Committee and the $10.998 million initially considered by the City Council, members of the public and several members of the City Council said they preferred a higher price tag if it came with the knowledge that the money for the proposed Police Department expansion was included in the measure, rather than relying on councilmanic bonds for that part of the project.

“If you put it at $12.5 (million), it will pass,” said Margaret Loiseau. “I won’t participate in a ‘no’ campaign if it’s $12.5 (million) including the police station.”

Five other members of the public also spoke, saying they strongly support including the police station in the project.

“I do believe in talking to the neighborhood and residents in my area, that they want to be safe,” said Sally Buckingham. “They want to have a good police station to serve the community and I firmly believe that if you put the City Hall together with the police station for $12.5 (million), it will pass. Because that’s what the constituents want.”

Police Chief Greg Wilson made his pitch to the City Hall Advisory Committee earlier this year for expanding the police station. At the time, he asked for a station about twice the size of the current 7,000 square-foot-building. The police expansion proposed in the measure to appear before voters would add approximately 3,000 square feet to the existing building.

The main purpose of the project, however, is to build a new City Hall. Mountlake Terrace has been renting City Hall space for about $40,000 per month following a 2008 ceiling collapse in the old City Hall building, which made the building unsafe for employees. The building proposed in this measure is expected to be approximately 18,000 square feet.

Voters approved a levy lid lift in 2016 to temporarily cover the cost of rent at Interim City Hall for four years while a new City Hall is planned and built, assuming the project is approved by voters. 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.

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.

With that history, city councilmembers have been looking to pass something they are confident will reach 60 percent approval.

“I’ve been adamant about trying to find a balance to get us where we need to be to get to ‘yes,'” Councilmember Bryan Wahl said. “I have also been clear that I think I want to find the most fiscally prudent and responsible way of getting there, that has the least impact on the voters.”

Initially, he said, that route looked like shrinking the City Hall project to $10.998 and using the municipal bonds to fund the police station expansion. But, he said, using voter-approved funds for the police station is not irresponsible.

“I like the idea of begin able to have those (bonds) available down the line for other purposes, whether it’s the Rec Pavilion or Ballinger Park or Main Street, or any of the other things we have coming down the line,” he said.

Councilmember Laura Sonmore was excited about how much input the city has received on the project so far.

“This is the first time I have seen so much collaboration, and I want to say to each and every one of you, we heard what you are saying,” she said.

McCardle was the only councilmember who did not agree with the $12.5 million price tag.

“I keep going back to what the City Hall Advisory Committee first recommended — City Hall only for $11.6 (million),” he said. “It was not a unanimous vote. Now, we’re talking $12.5 (million) and we’re all roses about 12.5 (million), which is larger than 11.6 (million.)

“I completely support the police, but our biggest issue in front of us is that we can no longer afford rent,” he added.

Later Thursday evening, the City Council also approved the Pro and Con Committees to write statements for the November general election ballot, where this measure will appear. City Spokeswoman Virginia Olson is confirming with committee members if they still want to serve on the committees, since the measure changed on the night of its approval.

–By Natalie Covate

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