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Poulsbo’s Stern calls for stay on city hall

t Citing markets, planning flexibility council member says it would be ‘imprudent’ to move forward.

POULSBO — The fragile state of the financial market is leading one Poulsbo council member to suggest a new city hall project should be put on the back burner.

Ed Stern, also a member of the city’s finance committee, said Friday “I’m going to withdraw my support for the funding and construction of the main city hall project.” The statement came just after Stern’s praise of the Poulsbo-Harrison Medical Center deal currently in the works, which would sit the hospital’s new cancer care campus along State Route 305.

Stern said the Viking City’s likely addition will continue down the path of tax base diversification, which helped the city to earn a AA bond rating from Standard & Poor’s last month. That rating, which the city plans to use when taking out $9.5 million in bonds for the $16.9 million city hall project, has an expiration date, and Stern said he’ll recommend to the council the city continue its fiscal frugality and go out for the same exceptional rating when the time is better suited to build city hall.

“Ultimately the downtown city hall will be built and will be a huge investment in downtown revitalization, and we are committed to that, but not at this time,” Stern said. “Until we can confirm financial markets are in order and we double confirm that our revenue projections are what we think they are... it would be imprudent in my opinion to move forward.”

Stern’s comments echo the concerns of council members Becky Erickson and Linda Berry-Maraist, who both say such a large expenditure at economically unstable times worries them.

The city hall construction project was designed in phases, the first of which entailed demolition and excavation of the site at Moe Street and Third Avenue. With no additional cost, Stern said, phase two of construction, the actual building of the structure, can be put on hold.

The stay could also allow further discussion on the size and scope of the new city hall, to which Erickson and Berry-Maraist have attempted to offer alternatives to lessen the price tag. Those alternatives have so far been nixed by the council’s other members.

Stern said he’d also like to shift focus to revitalization efforts along Viking Avenue. “I’m calling for fiscal restraint, coupled with prudent action, centered on economic development,” he said.

Currently, the city hall project is at the mercy of the financial market. City Finance Director Debbie Booher said the project is still waiting on interest rates to decrease.

The council previously agreed not to obtain bonds until the 10th Avenue land eyed by Harrison is sold.

When asked what he did see as a possible city hall timeframe, Stern didn’t offer specifics but referenced the move-in of Harrison and revitalization efforts.

“That’ll be plenty for ‘09,” he said.

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