SOLON– It’s narrowed down to one choice.
If there’s going to be a new city hall anytime soon, it’s either going to be the Brosh Chapel and Community Center or nothing.
At a special meeting last week, Solon City Council members decided against considering the Solon Public Library as a potential city hall site and continued discussions about the possible purchase of the Brosh location.
It’s a subject the council has been kicking around since late April. The city hosted a modestly-attended public forum at the Brosh site June 8, and, at the June 29 special session, potential financing scenarios were reviewed.
Put to rest was the idea that the city could piggy-back with an expansion of the Solon Public Library, an option that was kept on the table as the city reviewed new construction costs.
“The (June 8) forum gave me what I was looking for,” said council member Cami Rasmussen. “General support to move ahead.”
Solon residents typically expressed a desire for more details, based on reports from the council members. Most people were generally positive, the council members noted, but citizens wanted to know more about the costs of renovation and continued operation, the difference in the asking price and the assessed value and the impact of the purchase on residential property taxes.
At last week’s meeting, the inquisitive citizen was embodied by Cheryl Reyhons, who peppered the council with questions and comments throughout the meeting.
Reyhons questioned the need for such a large space and wondered how long it would take for the city to grow into it at Solon’s current rate of growth. She pointed out the Brosh site is not technically located on Main Street, and indicated the current city hall is more accessible than having to cross Highway 1.
“I’m just pointing out the cons,” she noted.
“This is a Cadillac,” she observed later. “You can afford a Cadillac, but you need a Chevy.”
The city has made the case that while the Brosh site provides more space than currently needed, the value of the property (its location, price tag and facilities) make it a choice which should be seriously considered.
Even council member Sue Ballantyne, reluctant to support the purchase, tried to make the case with Reyhons.
“So we’re getting a used Cadillac for the cost of a new Chevy,” Ballantyne suggested.
The building, completed in 2003 and offered to the city for $1.3 million, is viewed by most council members as a property which gives the city a Main Street presence and enough room to serve as city offices for a half-century.
Included in the purchase price is the parking lot across Cedar Street to the west.
The ground level of the Brosh building includes a lobby area, chapel, a small kitchenette and a children’s room, as well as a display room and a deck that extends over the back parking lot to a view of a landscaped pond.
The handicapped-accessible community center on the lower level has an oversized kitchen, a walk-in cooler, and can comfortably seat 250 people.
The city hasn’t set aside any money for the project– it wasn’t anticipated as an expense until the 2014 fiscal year, in which an estimated $500,000 for land acquisition had been penciled in– so much of the special meeting focused on financing and the potential impact on the municipal budget.
City Administrator Cassandra Lippincott outlined some modest growth projections for council members, reported on the city’s current and future debt capacity, then utilized a projected spreadsheet to demonstrate the city’s options.
More than likely, the city would have to finance the project with general obligation bonds, and those bonds would be repaid by the city’s debt service levy and Tax Increment Finance (TIF) revenues.
Debt for a number of recent public works projects is still on the books, with another half-million in bonds anticipated next year, but most are smaller projects ($1 million or less). That leaves the city with plenty of debt capacity, Lippincott noted.
Starting with a split of 60/40 (TIF revenues/debt levy), council members looked at the probable cost to average homeowners in Solon, deciding in the end that more information is still needed.
While Mayor Rick Jedlicka supported using as much TIF as possible, other council members were wary, mostly because it might handcuff the city’s options for spending if an unforeseen project came up.
Several council members also wanted hard numbers for the projected growth of city staff and the costs to operate the Brosh building.
“Sure, it’s a newer building,” council member Mark Krall said, “but we need to look at 10-year maintenance costs.”
Also discussed was the fate of the current city hall (keep or sell?) the parking lot across from the Brosh building (keep as downtown parking or sell as a commercial lot?) and how the basement community room would be operated under the city.
At least one council member expressed a desire for another forum with the public.
The possible purchase will likely be back on the agenda for more consideration during the next council meeting July 6.