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Decision still pending on City Hall bond

Ashland City Council is wrestling with whether to put a proposed $10.6 million bond on the May ballot and how it should be packaged.

The council did not make a decision at Tuesday night’s meeting, so the discussion will continue to the next council business meeting from 6-9:30 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 18, at the council chambers, 1175 E. Main St.

City Administrator Kelly Madding said a decision must be made at the next meeting in order for the bond proposal to make it to the May ballot, because the city has to have the information to the county clerk by the end of the month.

“I feel like we will put it on the ballot because we feel a sense of urgency,” Jensen said. “And that’s a big step that we can take to move forward.”

Madding said the council’s options are to place the bond on the May ballot, the November ballot or decide on another alternative entirely.

Jensen said he believes the council will likely remove the Butler-Perozzi Fountain and solar yard from the package, because the replacement and renovation of city hall, the community center and Pioneer Hall are all bigger priorities.

City Attorney Dave Lohman has said through this process that as long as the city has a plan in place for how to renovate the seismically unsafe city hall building, the city is fairly safe in terms of liability if an accident were to occur.

Lohman clarified that individual city councilors could be held liable for an accident if no plan is determined.

Madding said if the bond financing for city hall is not approved, conversation will shift to figuring out a new plan for the building, which may include moving staff out.

Madding said there’s been a lot of misinformation spread about the city hall project and whether the building is seismically unsafe.

She said there have been two engineering studies performed, in 1999 and 2016, that prove the city is on unstable ground.

“The building is an unreinforced masonry structure, which is the worst kind of building because it doesn’t absorb any shock,” Madding said.

A page of questions and answers stemming from a Jan. 22 town hall meeting has been posted on the city’s website and includes a timeline of events that references the latest study. Madding said she would work to get the recent study online as well.

The Q&A page can be found at ashland.or.us. Click the “City Hall and Capital Facilities Bond Q&A” under the “News & Info” heading on the right side of the homepage.

Aside from doubting that the building is unsafe, some residents have brought up a plethora of concerns, including the cost of the bond, the architecture firm, ORW, on the city hall project, and the type of items listed within the bond.

Citizen Budget Committee member David Runkel said the proposed bond “comes in the seventh month of a 24-month budget cycle and calls for adding more than $10 million in spending to the $252 million city budget.”

He said the financing for the fountain and the solar yard were never brought up in a budget meeting and would reverse the committee’s decision to eliminate six city positions this past year to balance the budget.

The proposed bond includes $7.2 million for the replacement of city hall, $2.1 million for three solar systems for the city and emergency back-up usage, renovation of the community center and Pioneer Hall, each at $500,000, and restoration of the Butler-Perozzi Fountain for $350,000.

The 20-year bond would cost 26 cents per $1,000 of assessed property value.

Jensen said if the bond is approved, it would essentially replace a current bond of 23 cents per $1,000 that will leave the tax rolls when it is paid off in June.

The bond proposal was recommended by an informal work group formed by the mayor to address the city’s financial security after the budget was approved last year.

The proposal came as a surprise to many residents, so a town hall was scheduled to clarify information and gather input from residents on the idea.

Mayor John Stromberg said the town hall discussions helped the members of his work group clarify the issues and gain a better understanding of the public’s experience with them.

“It was refreshing, substantive and communicative for a change,” Stromberg said.

The town hall was recorded and posted on the city website. It can be found under “videos and archives” within the “quick links” heading on the homepage. Once there, click “Jan. 22, finance bond.”

Contact Ashland Tidings freelance reporter Caitlin Fowlkes at caitlin.fowlkes@gmail.com.

Ashland's historic City Hall is in need of a seismic upgrade. file photo