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We will pay and pay and pay for the new Bothell City Hall | Letter
The June 20 issue of the Bothell Reporter contained a lengthy article and letter regarding the Bothell City Council’s decision on June 3 to proceed with building a new city hall. Unfortunately neither piece shed any light on several very troubling aspects of that decision.
A quick summary – we are using a financing method called "63-20," whereby we hire a company to sell tax-exempt bonds on our behalf and they hire the contractor who builds the building. We then pay off those bonds by paying rent for 33 years, after which we own the building.
First, the cost of this building is super expensive compared to other public buildings in the area. For example, Redmond built their city hall, which is more than twice as large as ours, for $318 per square foot in 2004-5, also using 63-20. Shoreline and Woodinville were in the same ballpark. The fully equipped buildings for our new 1,600 student high school will cost $425 per square foot. Our city hall will cost more than $1,000 per square foot. Can you say “Taj Mahal-squared?”
Second, at the May 20 and again at the beginning of the June meeting, the city manager said that the cost of the project would be $46.76 million. But buried on page 365 of the agenda packet was a May 30 memo from the city’s ‘financial advisor’ saying that because of the 63-20 financing, the total project cost had increased 13.3 percent to $53 million. The bulk of this increase was for interest on the bonds that we have to pay before we start paying rent. So we end up paying interest on interest for 33 years. Why didn’t we know this before that night?
Third, state law requires that the rent “shall not exceed the prevailing rates for comparable space.” The city’s consultant, in another last minute memo handed out on June 3, claimed that no comparables could be found. Let’s be clear here, we are talking about office space. There is nothing unique about the fact it is for a city hall.
Redmond’s consultant had no trouble finding three office buildings of approximately the same size and quality (Class A). He inflated the then current rate ($13 per year, per square foot) over 30 years and arrived at $25.04. His analysis showed that by 2034 the rate would be $40. Our rate will be $66.50. Why wasn’t a similar analysis done for us?
Fourth, our building will have three floors of underground parking, 255 stalls. Building such parking is very, very expensive and subject to all kinds of potential problems – particularly groundwater. But it appears that up to 100 of those spaces will be used to satisfy some of the parking for the other two hoped-for private buildings in that block. Why do the taxpayers have to foot the bill for that?
Fifth, aesthetics. When we built the police/court buildings we were told that their architecture would set the theme for the city hall. Take a good look at the picture on page 5 of the June 20 newspaper.
That glass-encased metal building looks like it landed from outer space across the street from the police station. So much for relating to the historic downtown look.
Sixth, the ordinance (#2150), approved by five members of the council (Lamb, Freed, Evans, Agnew and Spivey), is very complex and runs to 203 pages. It is so complex we had to hire an expensive outside attorney and it is not at all clear that he looked out for the citizen’s interests.
Finally, those five councilmembers have maxed out our debt limit and committed us to 33 years of ‘rent-to-own’ our own city hall – all without a vote of the people. Several of us explored the possibility of mounting a referendum campaign to give you a chance to have a real say on this expenditure of public money. Alas, our attorney concluded that we were prohibited from doing so because of the nature of the ordinance.
Those who voted for this made a grand show of how many meetings had been held on this topic. The problem is, they didn’t listen to the public and chose to pursue a route that prevented us, the ones who will have to pay and pay and pay for this, from having the last word.
Bill Moritz, Bothell