Property purchase splits Poulsbo city council

New land for Public Works given go-ahead after divided vote.

POULSBO — A decision to approve the purchase of new property sparked debate on the city’s handling of capital projects in conjunction with its budget Wednesday night.

Poulsbo city council members batted on the issue of purchasing new land for the Public Works department while simultaneously constructing a new city hall.

The council landed in favor of the purchase and preceding environmental study of a $1.05 million, 4-acre parcel on Viking Way north of State Route 305 in two 3-2 votes.

Council members Kim Crowder, Connie Lord and Ed Stern sat in favor of the purchase and study; Linda Berry-Maraist and Becky Erickson stood against it, calling into question the responsibility of the city’s spending.

Council members Jeff McGinty and Dale Rudolph weren’t in attendance.

Berry-Maraist expressed concern at purchasing the property without a definitive plan to build on it while still waiting for final numbers on the cost of a new city hall.

“I think that it’s really important that we set a budget before we spend $1 million of taxpayer money and see how all these projects fit together,” she said. “I cannot understand how we can commit ourselves over and over again to large projects without a budget.”

Erickson urged the reexamination of the city’s capital improvement projects and their connections, and said it concerns her as projects continue forward without confirmed price tags.

“We’re operating outside of our existing budget lines,” she said, later adding, “We are talking about the capital improvements for the city and they are all joined at the hip.”

Erickson also noted a rise in the cost of the new civic structure — from roughly $12 million to nearly $17 million in estimations — is a sign projects may be passing too quickly through committees and need to be looked at in totality.

The $1.05 million purchase wouldn’t include any structural additions to the land; Poulsbo Mayor Kathryn Quade said it could be five to 10 years before a building is constructed. According to current cost projections, which department director Barry Loveless said need to be updated, a new building would cost $7.53 million.

Nonetheless, Loveless added, the land purchase would be immediately beneficial for the city, providing a place to consolidate materials and equipment.

If not purchased, the land would likely not be available in the future, Poulsbo Mayor Kathryn Quade contended.

Crowder said statements referring to the city’s lack of budgetary readiness painted the city in a bad light, and she championed the purchase as finding plots of land suitable to industrial needs isn’t easy. It could always be sold in the future, she added; Erickson countered the city has seen declining appraisal values within the last year.

Funding for the property will come primarily from Public Works funds, with about $233,000 coming out of the city’s general fund, which isn’t expected to affect the city hall project. Stern said he felt financially the city could afford both.

“I’m quite comfortable with the numbers I’ve heard,” he said.

Quade offered assurance the city is keeping tabs on its numbers, and will continue to do so.

“It’s not like we’re putting our heads in the sand,” she said.

She added it won’t impact the city hall project “one iota.”

The city’s purchase agreement expires Oct. 15, leaving time for Parametrix to conduct a study of the property before Quade’s final signature.

Time is relatively of the essence, as in 2006 the city developed an agreement with the Suquamish Tribe to restore part of Dogfish Creek. The current Public Works building sits in the creek’s floodplain at the corner of Iverson Street and Eighth Avenue, near the Poulsbo Library. Part of the agreement stipulated the existing Public Works would be moved from the area by 2012.

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