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The county’s presentation, “New Municipal Building Space Program Update” at the Feb. 2 county council meeting did not generate the kinds of questions from the council that showed it was concerned about cost issues. There were questions on the size of the council chambers and conference rooms. However, there were no questions about why the space requirements were based upon the GSA figure of 300 square feet per person rather than 200 or 250. The cost of the building is a function of the size of the building, currently estimated at 50,425 square feet. There is a “placeholder” cost of $15 million dollars in the current budget. Is this how much the county will spend total? Before the council requests space requirements from the county, the council must say how much this building will cost. The person making the presentation commented about building costs being lower now than they have been. Are we going to have another huge monstrosity rushed through rather than taking the time to look at how much we are willing to spend and then designing for that?
The county is building for 168 employees, an increase of 17 employees over the current number, as well as Council Chambers. However, some on the council have indicated an interest in decreasing the county’s share of the property tax revenue. To do this, the county must cut back on the number of staff, not increase it. At one point the county indicated that it could cut back on supplies and training to reduce the county’s share of property tax revenue. However, it is unrealistic to think that cutting back on paper clips, copy paper, etc. will put a dent in the amount the county needs from the property tax revenue. The largest part of the county budget is people so that’s where cuts have to come from.
Some county staff will move from the library to the new building. Some will move from the Community Building. Both these moves will result in empty space. Before deciding on the size of the new building, the county must explain how it will use this empty space. Building a large structure and then leaving county space empty is an affront to the taxpayers. Taxpayers want to know how the county is economizing, and empty county space is not economical.
The county’s presentation included a list of add-ons that could increase the size of the building another 28,400 square feet. These include a public health office suite, PAC 8, the historical archives and county records and fire administration. There is a huge fire station in White Rock. Why wasn’t it planned for the fire administration to move there? There will be space in the library. What will it cost to put the archives and records there? After all, the library is a place where one should be able to view all sorts of information including archives. There is an investment in PAC 8 in the basement of the Community Building. Why wouldn’t it stay there? Public Health used to be in the hospital. Why isn’t it still there?
To summarize, we need an integrated approach to building this new facility, not a piece meal one. Are there “place holders” in the current budget for the add-ons also? If not, then the council should make no decisions about the Municipal Building until after the FY 2011 budget process identifies the cost and funding sources for the Municipal Building and any additions.