With only one hesitant show of resistance the Public Works Department renovation project got the city council’s go-ahead. And who wouldn’t be hesitant under the collective stare of an audience packed with Public Works employees?
Hard to believe that only a week since their inaugural speeches warning about slashed budgets, tight money, and painful decisions to come, the $3 million bond loan application was approved unanimously and painlessly. The money for this project – if it holds at $3 million – would no longer come partly from a loan and partly from the city’s contingency money reserves, as was previously planned. All of the $3 million would come from the loan.
As though that “painful decision” stuff were all a bad dream, later in the Nov. 23 meeting the council sat placidly through a presentation of the architect’s latest plan. Finally, Councilmember Josh Wright made the attempt to remind everyone that since the project had been approved the state slashed the city’s budget and more economic hardships were on the way. “When are we going to talk about the future of this project?” he asked.
The other council members and the mayor said that although the bad economy has created a budget shortfall, it has also created an excellent financial environment for loan interest rates and contract bidding. Councilmember Colleen Clay said she has heard many constituent comments and has given the matter considerable thought. She has decided that the status quo, she says, is not acceptable. “I think we should go forward with it, and I’ll go further!” she said.
She said she doesn’t want to repeat the big mistake made on the city’s community center construction project. The big mistake, in her opinion, was that the city tried to do it piecemeal, which ultimately cost more. She said the city should do as many Public Works Dept. renovations as they can.
Councilmember Rueben Snipper also said “we should go ahead with this project.” Councilmember Terry Seamens, said “I don’t want to borrow more money, this is a bad time to do that.” But, because of the “horrible” working conditions and to support the Public Works labor force, he said he “strongly supports” going ahead with the project. He also said the plan was a good one.
They did kick around the notion of cutting back services, handing them over to the county. They put some speculative questions to the Public Works director. What would be the renovation cost savings if the city stopped trash collection? The director said that in most cases the buildings are shared by more than one service, intimating that changes to them would have minimal savings. The mayor wondered aloud how much would actually be saved then on small alterations to a building. “Where’s the saving? Positions? Equipment?”
But, as anxiety spread through the audience, the council majority went back to assuring them and each other that they supported the project. There were no votes as this was just a presentation and discussion, but it seems likely that when it is time to vote on the $3 million bond and project, the vote will be “yes.”
The deadline to make the official request for the loan is Jan. 24.
The reverberations of the community center debacle continue to vibrate through city politics like the Vietnam War reverberates through the nation’s.
The community center’s design and building was cursed with: unexpected construction delays and costs, a final plan that granted every item in the community’s wish list – except the main one (to have a gym), a downgrading of a grand design to a mediocre eyesore, mismanagement by the former city manager, and a blooming of public resentment and distrust of the council and city staff that still lingers.
Now, even though it was stressed at the time of it’s conception and construction that the community center was NOT being built to improve office space, it was for the citizens. The new office space was just a byproduct, they said. But, it has created facility-envy. The existence of the community center has created an “equity” issue for the Public Works Department staff. It has even been called a “social justice issue” by the city manager.
The public and the council will doubtless see the shadow of the community center on this new renovation. Some residents will say the council is making the same mistakes. The council has set out to avoid making the same mistakes. Either way, the community center curse creeps into everyone’s thoughts, words, and actions on the Public Works Renovation.