Wednesday night, the City Council launched a six-to-ninth-month public participation process aimed to help the city see if it should build what essentially would be a new city hall.
The flood-damaged Veterans Memorial Building/City Hall on May’s Island would serve other functions if a new building is built.
The city is calling the new building a Community Services Center, and the concept is for the city, county and school district to participate in the public input process to see if it might make sense for the three entities to co-locate services in a services center building or on a campus.
All three have had flood damage to their central offices, and all three have been meeting for months to ready for the public participation process.
At the Wednesday night council meeting, council members Justin Shields, Brian Fagan and Monica Vernon voiced strong support for the public process, while Shields and Fagan talked about wanting the city’s future to be better than its past and how a new building might be a way to accomplish that.
At the same time, Fagan and City Manager Jim Prosser both made reference to an ongoing council lobbying effort that might need to succeed if a new City Hall/Community Services Center is ever built.
Those initiatives address how the city might pay to build a new building.
One of the initiatives on the council’s lobbying priority list would change state law to allow the city to use bond debt to pay to build a new City Hall/Community Services Center without holding a citizen vote. Such a vote is required now.
Some months ago, the city’s Statehouse lobbyist, former state legislator Larry Murphy, told the council that a law change to allow the city to forego a citizen vote on bonding for a public building was the least likely of the city’s lobbying initiatives to gain favor among legislators.
It was hard to know what Fagan and Prosser meant when they made passing reference to lobbying initiatives on Wednesday night. But after Wednesday’s meeting both noted that one of the initiatives they had in mind was acquiring the ability to forgo a bond referendum vote. Prosser recalled that lobbyist Murphy had doubts about a law change to permit that.
In the past, Prosser has said times of natural disaster might require such a change.
Fagan noted how difficult it would be if city, county and school district one day did decide to co-locate in a building or on a campus. Current state law might require each entity to go to voters separately to pass a bond vote, he said.
The city also is seeing if it’s possible to raise its debt ceiling or to see if the state might establish a bonding pool to help finance public buildings hit by disaster.
The council also is talking about an idea of a new Community Safety Training Center for police and firefighter training and a Community Operations Center, which might involve a reconfiguration of the city’s Public Works Facility at 1201 Sixth St. SW.