Allegan council disagrees on city hall plan

By: 
Virginia Ransbottom, Staff Writer

A few Allegan City Council members seem to be at odds when it comes to deciding on whether to renovate city hall or find a new location.

While all agreed that renovations are needed to become ADA accessible and efficient for all employees and the public, not all agree renovations should be made to the current building on Locust Street since it has little room for growth if more employees are needed.

The council was presented with financial plans to pay an estimated $1,081,300 in renovations to city hall designed by GMB Architects. The architects  were contracted for $11,200 to review current conditions at city hall and work with staff on a conceptual plan to update the building.

“I don’t think we should add $1.1 million to the backs of taxpayers for a building that will only serve the amount of people we have now,” said council member Nancy Ingalsbee. “I agree it is not professional as it is now but the only advantage is that it will make city hall efficient, not bigger.”

Council member Charles Tripp said his constituents recently told him they would rather see a new city hall that is functional for the next 100 years, rather than spend $1.1 million to remodel the current one.

Other council members said after discussing the future of city hall over the past several years, the community had already spoken in larger numbers and said they prefer city hall to stay where it is and past studies considering relocation would be even more costly.

Mayor Rachel McKenzie gave population projections from the Master Plan that indicated Allegan’s population would only grow to about 5,511 by 2040, from its current 5,166.

“If we’re not growing, we’re not hiring any more employees,” she said. “There’s not enough land to project more growth.”

While the former PNC Bank is no longer an option for relocation, the Sackett building (Allegan Professional Building on Trowbridge Street) was repeatedly referred to as an option with it being on the market.

Tripp said that option was too old. Another option was to build a new City Hall on an empty city lot on Brady Street

To stay where it’s at, a large bank vault that consumes space in the narrow building’s first floor, would be torn out. A waiting area and conference room could then be created on the first floor with most of the city staff relocated to the second floor in an open office environment. The basement would be improved for better use of storage for documents and servers.

While a bond from the general fund was suggested, a grant tying the project with a new streetscape for downtown was also suggested at an additional cost of $500,000.

After viewing a map showing all the neighborhoods in need of sidewalks, council members all agreed the community would prefer streetscaping to be a separate project to focus first on those neighborhoods.

That left two financial plans for a bond to be paid annually from the general fund.

Option 1 was a 15-year bond at a 2.9-percent interest rate on $1.5 million which would cost $121,000-$125,000 annually and $1.8 million after 15 years.

Option 2 was a 10-year bond at a 2.5-percent interest rate with payments of $167,000 to $171,000 annually that would cost $1.7 million after 10 years.

With the audit of fiscal year 2017 finished, city manager Joel Dye said the city has strong financial strength and could absorb the bond from the general fund and still maintain a fund balance above 20-percent of operating expenditures.

He said while the fund balance dipped from $2 million to $1.2 million because of significant renovations to the riverfront, the annual payments could be absorbed while still saving and budgeting for the capital improvement plan—including water and sewer.

“The DDA could also help with the annual debt payment,” he said. “I don’t have a side, I just want direction.”

McKenzie said the council should go with what was presented or do nothing.

“We all like the 10-year option but to stay more financially strong, I think we should go with 15,” said council member Deb Leverence. “Not being ADA accessible is illegal and if we just keep talking and doing nothing about it again it would just be crazy—we could be sued.”

Ingalsbee said the choice was fiscally irresponsible and asked for more time to gather public feedback.

Mayor pro-tem Stacie Stotmeister said the public voted them onto the council to make decisions for them.

The issue will be revisited for discussion on Nov. 27. 

Virginia Ransbottom can be contacted at vransbottom@allegannews.com or at (269) 673-5534.

 

Sidebar, "City hall in review" by Ryan Lewis, Editor

The most recent effort in the past to relocate city hall took the form of a plan to put it in the formerly vacant building at 155 Brady St. in the heart of Allegan’s downtown.

The city sold $150,000 in bonds to purchase the former National City Bank building in 2013 with an eye toward renovating; city council members later balked at diverting money and resources away from riverfront development.

Controversy developed in late 2015 when Hartman Ellis Agency Ltd. and a local man both submitted proposals to purchase the building. Council members selected the Hartman Ellis proposal over Greg Paggeot’s plan to start a casual fine dining restaurant there.

City administrators said the eventual sales agreement approved by city council members in February 2016 had Hartman Ellis paying the city a total of approximately $130,000 for the building. That amount paid off the remaining debt on the bonds it sold to acquire the building.

Hartman Ellis owner Katherine Lake cut the ribbon on the newly renovated location for the insurance business May 4.

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