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Mayor calls work session for 'resizing' of 'retrofitting' project

May 04, 2005 - A work session to discuss the "resizing'' of the "retrofitting'' of the Crestwood Government Center to include a new police facility has been called for today — May 5 — by Mayor Roy Robinson.

The work session will take place at 7 p.m. at the Community Center at Whitecliff Park, Robinson announced last week shortly after taking the oath of office as mayor. Robinson was elected April 5, defeating incumbent Mayor Tom Fagan.

Before Robinson was sworn in April 26, the Board of Aldermen voted 5-3 to adopt an ordinance approving an agreement with the Westfield Corp. to lease office space at the Westfield Shopping-town Crestwood while the retrofitting of the Government Center takes place. Opposed were Ward 1 Alder-man Richard LaBore, Ward 3 Alderman Don Maddox and Ward 3 Alderman Jerry Miguel.

Before the board voted, Robinson, who had not yet been sworn in as mayor, urged the board not to approve the lease, citing the city's "serious financial problems.''

The Board of Aldermen had voted March 8 to authorize Fagan to sign a letter of intent to lease the space from Westfield beginning May 1.

In a March 8 memorandum to the board, Greer wrote, "During design and prebid discussions with the city's architect for the Police Building/Government Center renovations, we were informed that the most efficient and cost-effective manner of managing the construction would be for the board to essentially 'close' the Government Center and move City Hall during construction. Based upon that information, staff began a review of potential available space that would meet the needs of the city for a period of what could be 18 months.''

Under the agreement, the city will lease roughly 14,827 square feet of office space at the Westfield Shoppingtown Crestwood at a cost of $3,333.33 per month. During construction, Police Department communications will relocate to the Fire Depart-ment. Moving to the leased space would be the city administration, finance, city clerk, police support/operations, management information systems and the public works administration.

Voters in August 2002 approved Propo-sition S, the extension of a half-cent sales tax to fund construction of a new police building, fund repairs at the Government Center and allow the continuation of the city's street repair and replacement program. The half-cent, capital-improvements sales tax had been scheduled to end in 2008, but voter approval of Proposition S extended the sales tax until 2023.

In November 2002, the city issued $9.83 million in certificates of participation — or COPs — to fund the construction of a new police building and repairs to the Government Center. Due to the rising costs of concrete and steel, aldermen last summer scrapped the construction of the stand-alone police building and decided to retrofit the Government Center to include a new police facility.

The Board of Aldermen voted 6-2 in January to seek bids for the retrofitting of the Government Center, estimated at nearly $8 million, with Maddox and Miguel opposed.

Before the board voted to approve the lease, Robinson said, "... Since I've been elected mayor and will be sworn in tonight, I think it's only fair that the board recognize that we can no longer put the cart before the horse. The thing I want to remind you is that we are in serious financial problems. We want to look at this new renovation again and we're going to do that on May 5th. There are things that are going to have to change in this renovation and if we go ahead, we've already put out over a million and three, I think it's a million three and I don't know what the interest since that time's been, we've already put out that money that we have nothing to show for. This is out of the money that the taxpayers approved for the police facility.

"Now that we've gone back to where we're going to renovate the city (hall) and build a new police facility, we're going to have to look at the fact that we do not have the money to do this whole project as it is presently stated. You're going to have to take another look at it and if you're really concerned about the money in this city and how the people have to pay for this, you're going to be looking at it with the respect that we will down size the police facility. We will do away with portions of the COPs bonds, defease them, or whatever you want to call it, so that we can — do not have the debt that will continue for the next 10 years. Right now, it will cost us $740,000 — approximately between $733,000 and $740,000 a year to pay for this project,'' he continued.

"It's only using good common sense that we look at this and take a different look before we spend another $80,000 or $90,000. That may not be much money to you all, but it may mean a job here in the city.

"It may mean a lot of other things because we — I know I'll get the arguments that this doesn't have any effect on — I say anytime we have to make a payment on a bill, it has an effect on what we can do with the rest of the city. So I would beg that you do not go ahead with this lease. Of course, I'm not in any position to say, but I'm just telling you we've got a problem. We're going to be working hopefully together to solve this problem over the next three years and hopefully in the next year we will get something done so that we can turn this city around,'' Robinson said.

A resident, however, urged the board to approve the lease, noting that the city's capital-improvements fund earlier in the meeting had been described by city officials as "healthy'' with more than a $600,000 surplus projected at the end of the year.

David Brophy said, "I do not believe what I just heard from the mayor-elect. We just heard the city administrator state that for this year we had money in capital improvements for Ewers Drive and we had over (a) $600,000 surplus after we take care of not only Ewers Drive, but apparently also the police facility renovation. I find it incredible that the mayor-elect would propose that the voters of this city be disregarded when it came to the vote for the capital-improvements fund two-and-a-half years ago. It was specific not for Ewers Drive. It ... specifically put the extension for the police facilities to the voters. Granted, $1 million-plus has been spent on plans and interest so far. Has it been wasted? If we do nothing, the answer is certainly yes. If we go ahead, the answer is that that $600,000 or the additional cost to the plans that have been done for the second set, the answer is no, it has not been wasted. It will be used.

"Additionally, if the plans are revised again, is there any guarantee that they will be accepted by the mayor-elect? I do not believe so. We may wind up wasting a lot of money if we listen to the mayor-elect and turn down the plans tonight. I certainly hope that the board will listen to the voters of two-and-a-half years ago who approved the police facility renovation. The fact of the matter is, is that streets, yes they're No. 1 with respect to Commission 2000 report. But police and police facilities and City Hall come in second — 24 percent compared to 27 percent for streets, ahead of all other priorities,'' he said.

"And I ask you, how much has been spent on streets? Over $14 million. And how much has been spent on the police facility? About a million and a little bit better. Three percent difference in priority amongst the people, which is probably within the sampling error and 14 times as much is spent on streets so far. And additionally in the next 18 years or so, there will an additional $8 million to $10 million spent on streets. I say that there is enough money in the capital improvements fund for the second priority, which is our police. The mayor-elect last August criticized Mayor Fagan for hiring policemen. Very poor judgment because tonight we may have to hire park workers and we will see how the mayor-elect responds whether we should spend that money or hold a tight fist and observe the hiring freeze,'' he continued.

"But I, as one who voted against the police facility, strongly support what the voters said, and the voters said construct the police facility and we will pay for it with the capital improvements fund and that's what I hope this board does and I hope the mayor signs that bill as soon as it is passed,'' Brophy said.

During a discussion of the lease, Miguel urged the board to postpone action on it.

"The mayor-elect has asked us to go slow on this project. He has scheduled a work session for May the 5th. In my opinion, there are too many unknowns and uncertainties to proceed with committing to a lease with Westfield at this time. And there are differences between Ewers and this police building. Ewers is a current-year, one-year commitment. The police building is an 18-year commitment. And things have changed in the past two-and-a-half years. Our sales tax revenue has gone down and has continued to decline, I believe, in the first quarter of this year,'' he said.

"We have not yet seen the final plans. We have not yet received a bid from a contractor. It is still possible that we need to go back to the drawing board. I would ask this board to consider holding off or perhaps tabling this motion until after the May 5th meeting rather than act on it this evening ...,'' Miguel said.

Maddox also opposed approving the lease, while Ward 4 Alderman Joseph O'Keefe advocated approving it, saying, "... Whatever money is in the capital improvements fund can't be used to solve our job issues or hire people or to address those concerns of the general revenue fund. That's what we wanted to address with the bond issue, but I agree again with Alderman Miguel that we can't ignore what happened at the polls on that bond issue, but we can't ignore what happened in passing that sales-tax extension either. So I think for the same reason I voted yes on Ewers, I don't have any choice but to do the same here for the lease. I mean the money's there. We have it set aside in the capital improvements fund and I think it's time we move forward.''

At one point, Greer said, "... I guess I agree with just about everything that's been said at one point or another. I think we'd all love to be able to go back to whatever, the fall of 2002 and stop it. But that's not realistic to think that we can do that. The board's considered the issue of de-feasing those bonds on a couple of occasions. I guess the thing that I would still say is out there because the board hasn't made a final decision on the building yet is that if you proceed with the lease, whether you do or not, I mean if you don't, I'll call Westfield tomorrow and see what choice or options they give us.

"If you do, that's fine. The schedule that you got some — a number of months ago kind of gave you a schedule of what was going to occur when, and the project will be going to bid and you will have an opportunity to review the bids. If you want to value engineer the project at that time, I mean that's certainly something the board can do and would probably cost you less to value engineer it than to go back to the drawing board. I don't know that, maybe the director of public works would be a better person to give you an estimate or some kind of difference on that ... It seems to me that value engineering the project once you had a bid to exclude certain portions would be cheaper than negotiating another contract to redesign the redesign ...,'' Greer said

Regarding the work session he called, Robinson said he would like an estimate of the savings that would result from the elimination of the second story of the project.

".... I'd like a best estimate from our staff to see whether or not that would save and how much money that would save because I have been told building a second floor is one of the most expensive things that you can do. So I think we need to look at that again,'' the mayor said.

"I recognize this city is in serious financial problems and I've got, one other thing I've done in the, even before I was elected, it was before I was sworn in, as I have been having a citizens committee get together with a lot of the facts, people who are very qualified in the business community to evaluate what we need to do to get — this has nothing to do that our staff is not adequate. I want an outside opinion so we can see where we are so that we call on those people who have been there, done that and can give us some good advice,'' he said.

"It doesn't mean the board has to take it. It only means that the board can have an option and I think this will be a very productive work session,'' he added.

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