In 2008 the ceiling in the old city council chambers collapsed. Many citizens were and still are perplexed why the collapse of one ceiling in a much larger building was sufficient cause to demolish the entire structure. They were even more perplexed when, rather than ask voters to approve a ballot measure for a long-discussed new city hall, the city council instead voted to borrow the money for five years rent for city hall space in another building.
They were perplexed with good cause given that an affordable city hall that meets the needs of the city could have been put on the ballot before they ever demolished the old one. Both a 2008 analysis by Property Counselors and our 2007-08 Biennial Budget said a new city hall could be built for considerably less than $10 million.
Now the rental route that council chose in 2009 will be a central issue when the much larger Civic Center ballot measure comes before voters for a third time in April. Voters have already twice rejected what would be MLT’s largest ever tax increase.
The contention is that we could lose vital city services because there won’t be enough money to continue paying city hall rent and also continue city services. What they don’t say is that to make the rent issue go away we don’t need to borrow $25 million, possibly over $45 million with interest over the life of the bond.
Neither expensive rent nor potential service cuts would be necessary if we only borrow to build what we had before 2009 and what we have now. All we need to make city hall rent go away is an affordable city hall.
What’s really going on here? In 2009, council knew voters were in no mood to bankroll everything on the City’s then $37.5 million wish list. Rather than compromise on their grand plan by simply asking voters for a much-needed city hall, the City borrowed 5 year’s rent, hoping voters’ financial outlook would improve before 2013. Now it’s 2013 and we’re experiencing our own fiscal cliff.
We are past the point of second guessing a bad decision in 2009. Renting city hall space for another five years or even more is not a smart use of our tax dollars today any more than it was in 2009. But we don’t need to approve an expensive civic center to make the city hall rent issue end.
Rather than shoot for the moon again, in these still troubled economic times council should provide financially stressed Mountlake Terrace voters a realistic city hall option we can afford so the long-term rent issue can be resolved.