Council considers project funding

12 years ago

Council considers project funding

By Kathy McCarty

Staff Writer

    PRESQUE ISLE — City Councilors met at City Hall Monday for a workshop to discuss the status of the Community Center project and what the next step should be, including how to raise approximately $7.4 million to construct the building. All councilors were present for the meeting, except Micah Desmond and Jessica Chase-Smith.

    City Manager Jim Bennett opened the meeting by reviewing what appeared to be the immediate questions that should be addressed by Council.

    “I’ve put together a pretty decent package of information for you, including what I sense are the four main questions for you to deal with tonight, listed in no particular order of importance,” Bennett said.

    Bennett’s first item pertained to creating a ballot question to present to citizens seeking input come November.

    “First, from a timing perspective, tonight would be the night to include a ballot question,” said Bennett, as he asked councilors to determine if an advisory question should be placed on the November ballot.

    “Staff is ready to order the municipal ballots. Nomination papers were due on Friday, Sept. 21. Any delay would impact the ability to have the municipal ballot available on the required days for absentee voting,” said the city manager.

    Bennett’s second question asked councilors if the structure, as recommended by the building community, was acceptable.

    “Any changes impacting cost would delay the ability to determine the actual impact to the citizens. Hence, if there is a desire to have the question on the ballot this November, it would virtually require the Council to substantially accept the building as proposed,” he said.

    Next, Bennett asked councilors what the “appropriate mix between private donations and contributions that must be raised in comparison with the total pre-bid design estimate cost” should be.

    “The task force recommended no more than $4 million locally sponsored to support the project, with the building committee supporting as a given premise. The remaining $3 million would come from private donations/contributions,” said Bennett.

    In Bennett’s memo to the Council, he noted the total financial impact of the project “will be a significant concern to many of the citizens as they cast their ballot.”

    “To determine those impacts, a policy decision on the appropriate mix will be necessary to proceed with the November question,” stated Bennett.

    Bennett’s last question involved setting a time table for completion of the center.

    “This decision will have a significant impact on the remaining major policy questions that are facing the Council. Obviously, the quicker the desired completion of the project, the quicker that the other decisions will have to be made,” said Bennett.

    Councilor Dick Engels said he’d heard a lot of controversy around town with regard to spending money on the Community Center. “The advisory issue is a no-brainer — problem being if it turns out to be a 50/50 vote,” said Engels.

    Council Chair Emily Smith agreed a question should appear on the ballot but wondered if it should be specific or vague. “Do you favor a Community Center to replace the existing one — point blank. Or do we want something more extensive?” asked Smith.

    Councilors discussed two question options presented to them by the city manager. The first question was: “Do you favor the construction of a new Community Center to replace the current facility?” The second option was: “Do you favor replacing the current Haskell Community Center with a new one, estimated to cost $7,495,000 (including $620,000 contingency), with the expectation that all funds over $4 million are paid for by sources besides property taxes?”

    Councilor Peter Hallowell made a motion in support of option two, with the addition that operating expenses could cost up to $400,000 per year. The motion failed to garner other councilors’ support and died. Engels made a motion to approve question one, which passed.

    Engels also made a motion, which passed unanimously, in favor of the building as recommended by committee.

    A considerable portion of Monday’s meeting involved discussing how to fund the project.

    Bennett said the $7.5 million “doesn’t include realignment of the (Chapman) road.”

    Bennett said it was hard to know the final cost, since “we have a chicken and egg thing going on.”

    “We won’t release the soft cost until we set some reasonable goal for raising funds, but we won’t have an idea of the project cost without going out to bid,” said Bennett. “I think we need to say what is the exact amount of money expected to be raised through private donations and other sources to give the community a fair shake.”

    Steve Richard, co-chair of the fundraising committee, said “Having been on a capital campaign before, it’s nice to know how much money to raise. You have to have a goal or target. To say you have to raise between $2 million and $3.5 million is a big gap.”

    Engels said he thought between $3.5 and $4 million would need to be raised, with Richard responding, “Then you’re asking a lot.”

    Bennett said he expected a reasonable portion — 10 to 20 percent — to “come from other than fundraising.”

    “There’s the potential sale of the current facility. There’s the private national foundation for the arts that could figure into this. The senior center could also bring in funds,” said Bennett. “We’re looking at a potential of $2.5 to $3 million from donations.”

    Engels said making the funding split equitable seemed the best way to go.

    “50/50 sells better in both directions,” said Engels, adding, “You want to set goals higher than you can live with.”

    Former Councilor Don Gardner, who also worked on the Community Center Committee, was in attendance and reminded councilors that fall elections “could change the whole complexion of the situation, with two new councilors on board who might not be in favor of the project.”

    “The people of Presque Isle are fragile. You’ll have a hard time raising $4-$5 million from the working class of Presque Isle. They won’t be happy if you say you’ve come up with $4 million but have to come up with $4 million more. They want to know where that’s coming from,” said Gardner. “All I ask is that you talk to the people.”

    “I’ve been involved with this since the beginning. It’s a weird concept. You could take all the money we’re going to get conceivably and replace/repair what we have,” said Gardner.

    “There are a million scenerios. We’ve already accepted the design project,” said Smith.

    Councilor Bruce Sargent made the motion to make the monetary split 50/50 with regard to donations/contributions and what portion will be funded through tax dollars. The motion passed.

    In his memo to councilors, Bennett indicated bids could be awarded as early as September 2013, with construction completed by the spring of 2015.

    Councilors also discussed the Haskell Building (current rec center) and how to maintain that, should difficulties arise in fundraising for the new center.

    “The money we start to put away — if the project doesn’t go and all we raise is $250,000, we’ll have to have some money for the Haskell Building. We should start raising contingency money for those repairs,” said Engels.

    Bennett suggested adding something on the Oct. 1 agenda for Council to discuss hiring an engineer to do a full evaluation of the Haskell facility.

    Council will hold its regular monthly meeting on Monday at 6 p.m. at City Hall. The public is welcome and encouraged to participate. For more information, call 760-2785 or visit