Letter: MLT civic center measure should be scaled back

Voters have twice rejected proposed bond issues to build a new city hall complex in Mountlake Terrace. Those bond issues were to be financed by significant increased property taxes. It appears that another $25 million bond issue will be presented to voters for approval next year. If passed, the amount to be financed to construct a new city hall complex could cost taxpayers close to $50 million when adding the total costs of repaying both principal and interest.

When purchasing a new product, comparison shopping permits a consumer to view the product for quality and compare prices between various potential choices.

Not so easy when considering purchasing a new city hall. Various city halls are not on sale at the local market to compare and contrast. They are not advertised in local advertising flyers. City halls are not reviewed and rated by major consumer product publications.

However, through Internet research, one is able to compare and contrast the size and expense of various recently constructed city hall complexes throughout the United States. Those projects, and the cities that constructed them can be juxtaposed with the proposed Mountlake Terrace city hall complex. as well as the size and wealth of Mountlake Terrace.

The results are illuminating. As the great baseball manager Casey Stengel once declared, ” you can look it up”. With the power of the Internet – you certainly can.

The 2010 census reveals that Mountlake Terrace has a population of 19,909, with an average median household income of 53,910 dollars.

In the local geographic area two city halls were recently constructed:

Kenmore, WA – population 20,000 plus – new city hall –  9 million

Redmond, WA – population 54,000 plus – new city hall – 20 million

Residents of both Redmond and Kenmore have higher median household incomes and average home values are higher than comparable Mountlake Terrace housing.

Other city halls have recently been constructed or are in the planning stages throughout the United States. Accounting for possible relaxed environmental standards and construction costs, these projects were or are still significantly lower in expense than the previously proposed Mountlake Terrace City Hall complexes.

Wellington Florida – population 50,000 plus – new city hall – $10.5 million

El Paso, Texas – population 700,000 plus – new city hall – $33 million

Alabaster, Alabama – population 30,000 plus – new city hall –  less than $3.5 million

Wildwood City, Missouri – population 34,000 – new city hall – $8 million

Wildwood City, Alabaster and Wellington have median household incomes greater than Mountlake Terrace. El Paso will be spreading the cost of a 33 million dollar city hall amongst 700,000 residents.

Many homeowners in Mountlake Terrace have lost significant value in their houses, without a corresponding reduction in property taxes. Additional real estate taxes on homeowners will be an economic burden for many in this stressful and uncertain economic environment.

Real estate tax increases can also be expected to impact the approximately 40 percent of residents in Mountlake Terrace who rent their homes and apartments. Rents have steadily increased as a result of the housing crisis, with the accompanying increase in demand for rental housing throughout South Snohomish County. With a continued strong demand for rental units, any tax increase can be easily passed on to the tenants in the guise of higher rents. There are no property tax deductions for those who rent, although renters indirectly contribute to the payment of real estate taxes.  As is often the case, those who are least able to afford increased taxes are those who will bear the full brunt of them.

What Mountlake Terrace residents can afford is a city hall that is commensurate with the income and population of their city. Based upon the above research, a new city hall complex for the population size and wealth of Mountlake Terrace should cost no more than $5 million-$10 million plus  financing costs. If such a bond proposal was placed before the city for a vote with assurances that any excess monies would only be applied to retiring the bond issue, one would expect almost unanimous support and passage by voters  with ease.

Eric Soll

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