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City hall bond request rightly moves ahead

The question of whether to build a new city hall in place of the old one or renovate the historic structure is still up in the air, but the City Council was right to vote Tuesday night to put a bond request on the May ballot.

In the process of that decision, the council chose to include only funding for the city hall project and needed repairs to the Community Center and Pioneer Hall. Two other items — a solar power installation for the city Service Center on North Mountain Avenue and restoration of the Butler-Perozzi fountain in Lithia Park — were dropped from the proposal. Those projects are still worth doing, but it makes sense to limit down the bond request to building renovation projects to simplify matters.

That also reduces the cost of the levy to $8.2 million — $7.2 million for the city hall and $500,000 each for the Community Center and Pioneer Hall. That keeps the cost to property owners at 20.9 cents per $1,000 of assessed value, below the 23 cents per $1,000 that will disappear from tax bills when bonds for county libraries and Fire Station 2 are paid off in June.

Officials face a deadline to decide on the wording of the ballot title for the May 19 election; that request is due to the county Elections Department by Feb. 28.

Whether to build new or rebuild within the existing structure to preserve its historic nature still must be decided. But the cost would be about the same, and the choice may hinge on whether necessary demolition permits can be secured.

There is a vocal contingent of residents who want to see the historic facade preserved, but it’s not clear whether most city voters are strongly committed to either approach. We have supported this project at this location because it preserves the seat of city government on the Plaza where it has been for more than a century, and because the existing site was the least expensive of the various options the city considered.

City leaders now have the task of selling the project to voters between now and May 19.