Facilities and capital planning

The City has 3 major facilities included in the 2010-2014 CIP. The new “Safety Center” (which is now planned as 2 facilities, 1 for Fire, 1 for Police) and an expansion of the Library.   For now, specifics about the Library project can wait since it is third in this line.

Financing for facilities projects: On February 9, the Council discussed how we would finance the Safety Center and Library projects, briefly, and deferred any decision (more info from packet).   The City would issue bonds, but there is a choice of bond types, each of which comes with different requirements for the types of projects it may be used to finance, interest rates and issuance costs, and the big political issue: referendum (general obligation bonds) or no referendum (CIP bonds)?

The Council’s decision to defer the issue was because we are waiting for additional information about the design/location of the project from the architect to be hired soon.   We must be able to describe the project in sufficient detail so voters understand what they’re being asked to spend more of their tax dollars to build.  Since we have not yet identified a location for the police station and questions are still coming about whether it is possible to build the fire station on the current site, it’s safe to say a few wrinkles need to be ironed out.  On the flip side, if we opt NOT to take the issue to a referendum, we still need to know these details to be able to convey our decision to the public and justify it.

Then there is the economic reality: Is this the right time to raise taxes to build 3 major facilities?   There is probably never a time when citizens like to see their taxes rise, but would the additional tax burden be too great for our citizens and our businesses (remember, the tax rate for commercial/industrial property is higher, so all tax decisions fall more heavily on the business community)?  And the governor is looking to claw back another $700,000 or so in local government aid for 2010 (with another $1+ million of LGA left to disappear), so the City finances are looking worse all the time.

If I was confident about these projects, I’d prefer not to take them to a referendum. The issues were aired extensively during the 2008 campaign, have been discussed frequently and at length since that time, and I believe we were all elected to make these choices.  There’s the cost of the referendum, too.   Don’t forget, there is a reverse referendum for the CIP bonds, so if you think we’d made a mistake, it can be undone.

But I’m not confident. I’m convinced of the space needs for Police, Fire and Library (See the Police/Fire timeline and the project page).  My biggest problem is continuing to receive information which questions previous information which makes me question the reliability of all the information leading to the Council’s initial decisions.  I’m nervous about the tax impact.  I’m anxious about moving ahead boldly on too many fronts – major facilities, major annexations, major budget cutting.   Over on Locally Grown, Mayor Mary Rossing describes the decision making process and asks what other information we need to make a decision.   I need help identifying the relevant/significant information, not necessarily more or different information.  But, on to the next step:

Architect RFP for the Safety Center.  Read the RFP. The committee to select the architect has been named:  Erica Zweifel and Rhonda Pownell are the 2 Council members on the committee.   Also on the committee: Steven Schmidt, Schmidt Construction; Brian Erickson, Public Works Operation Engineer; Mark Taylor, Police Chief; Joel Walinski, City Administrator; Mr. Steve Spehn, Director of Facilities and Capital Planning for Carleton College.

4 Replies to “Facilities and capital planning”

  1. Betsey,

    I appreciate your thoughts, and your honesty, on these projects. My biggest fear with these projects are that the City Council will be more interested in justifying a poor decision than they will be in making the right decision.

    I still don’t understand the decision to place a new fire station on the same location, and then gathering information to see if that will work. That notwithstanding, it would seem that an expanded fire station at this same site could be looked at by the architects for a minimal increase in the architects’ costs.

    Regarding the new information that is causing you to question the original decision, I haven’t heard anything about this information. It would seem that this blog is a perfect place to post that information so that your constituents can give you some feedback.

    There was some talk at the Chamber about forming our own task force to lend some expertise to the process. However, Joel and Mary didn’t seem open to the idea. But, if you have any interest, I could float it by the Chamber.

  2. It is surprising to me that the Police Chief is on the selection committee, but not the Fire Chief. Do you know what the rationale for that decision is?

    Do you feel you have sufficient information about the problems with the present site to support either razing the current building or remodeling it? If not, is this something the consultants will provide?

    1. In retrospect, it does seem odd that only police and not fire is represented…but I don’t know the backstory here (‘though I can try to find out). I am hoping the consultants will either provide information about the current site/building or will help sort out the information we already have.

  3. Betsey,

    It seems more odd that either department was “represented”. The departments could provide information on what they think is needed to help make a decision, and information on what will be contained in the building, if built. But, to have them help decide if they want a new building… duh. What do you think they would say?

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