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Rushford to seek bids on city hall project

By Kirsten Zoellner

Fri, Jul 20th, 2012
Posted in Rushford Government

The debate regarding Rushford’s proposed city hall conversion and the library project continue. While the council has tentatively approved the city hall move to the former and vacant municipal liquor store, including preliminary design work, little has been finalized due to lack of funding.

Both inside funding, using money from existing city funds, and outside funding, such as a USDA loan are both up for consideration, yet it’s unclear whether either is what the council wants for the city.

“I’ll be honest, I think it’s unreasonable to spend $160,000 to move city hall down there,” noted Councilor Roger Colbenson. “How do we go about getting it done?”

To date, the city has considered leasing the building to an outside entity, transferring it to the Economic Development Authority, letting it sit vacant short term until funding can be raised, and converting it into the city hall space. While the first three options might garner little cost to the city, there has been very little interest in them and options to lease the building were not successful.

“Maybe it doesn’t make sense,” responded Councilor Vern Bunke. “Maybe we shouldn’t be spending any money. I’m not hellbent on spending money anywhere until we get a handle on this. I made a motion to move city hall down there, not to approve $160,000 being spent, but a motion to explore the possibility. It’s got to be cost effective.”

The proposed $160,000 comes from architect Jose Rivas’ study of the building, yet there is no actual bid estimates. The council has discussed doing the conversion in phases, but the architect would need to review the project as a phased and restructure his estimate, all at added cost.

“Here’s the bid package. Bid it, period. We paid for an architect, we paid the money to do all the stuff, and we sit here and argue about it. We’ve got a package ready to go, let’s see what it costs. We still have no idea what it will actually cost,” added Councilor Mark Honsey.

“The council needs to come together on a funding source,” noted City Administrator Steve Sarvi. “We never really looked at where we think we can get funding. We were always going to apply as part of the library project, but we were taken off the project and stopped looking for other sources.”

Unanimously agreeing, the council has approved putting the architect’s estimate out for bids if only to see what the conversion will actually cost. City staff has also been directed to consider any and all funding options for a conversion, including both inside and outside funding sources.

On the other half of the issue, Library Director Susan Hart read a statement to the council in light of recent comments and editorials by some council members.

“I have grown tired of misinformation,” she read. “I usually just let it go as not worth the time and effort, but lately I pondering that if misinformation and untruths are repeated long enough and loudly enough, it will then become the truth in the minds of those who want to believe it.”

“While it is true that at the end of fiscal year 2011, the city cash reserves were at 11 percent, as FEMA reimbursements come in, that scenario is changing. The citizens of this community should be grateful that prior councils had built up healthy reserves while still encouraging economic growth. The latest financial charts and graphs from Mike Bubany, of David Drown Associates, show per capita debt over a thousand dollars less than quoted ‘fact.’”

“There has been one active capital campaign for a new library. The city did not ‘bail out’ the library board’s efforts. The fundraising project has not failed, it just had the rug pulled out from under it by this council stopping the library project, interfering with FEMA funding by rescinding project application, and losing the USDA loan and grant through stalling and massive changes to the scope of the original project. We has really only just begun to fund raise. The library board has returned, upon request, over $200,000 in cash, pledges, and in-kind offers from those who believed in the new library project.

“Where is the city strategic plan? What action goals have been set for the city? What has been accomplished in the last couple of years that was not already part of a project underway and moving towards completion? If your ‘plate’ isn’t full, with plans for the future growth of the city and with ways to expand the tax base, you may not be doing your job as a city governing representative,” concluded Hart.

The city will continue to wait as the council works to find a suitable resolution to both the city hall and library issues.

In other news, the plans for a new Brooklyn Park are underway. The former park was uprooted due to massive utility work following the flood of 2007 and upgrades will need to be made to the site per guidelines.

The neighborhood group, spearheaded by Heidi Halverson, has been working diligently with the city on a plan for the site and has a tentative design in place. Working cooperatively with the neighborhood group, the city has approved a plan for the playground with the stipulation that all of the funding for the project is in place prior to any construction start. The city will offer site preparation, insurance, and maintenance of the park, as well as $5,000 in funding, which was set aside for the project at the end of 2011.

The projected cost to the new park and play structure is expected to be just under $31,000. The neighborhood group has already conducted fundraising of its own, but grant writing, with approval from the council, will need to be done to seek the remaining funds. Carolyn Dunham will do the grant writing on behalf of both groups.

The next regularly scheduled meeting is Monday, July 23, at 6:30pm, at city hall. The public is encouraged to attend.

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