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Poulsbo's new city hall could be a lesson in history

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POULSBO — The Empire State Building was built during the Depression Era.

So was the Hoover Dam.

So, in fact, was the Golden Gate Bridge, which nearly got its start before the Wall Street Crash of 1929, but was instead put off until bonds in the rebounding market could be sold. The bridge was eventually finished in 1937.

Each was done at a time when the economy was low and the need for job creation was high — similar, some might say, to present times. The historic examples make a good point, said Poulsbo Mayor Kathryn Quade, and translate well to the Viking City, albeit on a smaller scale.

Despite the recent hesitance of three council members — two of whom have called for a redesign or redistribution of the new city hall’s spacial use and one of whom says the brakes should be temporarily put on the project altogether — Quade says she is still moving forward with the council’s original 5-2 vote to construct the building downtown at the corner of Third Avenue and Moe Street.

“Unless I get a vote that says ‘stop,’ I’m going to continue on. The project team is going to continue on,” she said. “Things are not doom and gloom here. We’re doing OK.”

Currently the project is waiting on Wall Street. It was scheduled to go out for $9.5 million in bonding the week after the Dow Jones crashed, but the city is now looking for interest rates to decrease before taking out debt. According to the city’s financial team, Quade said that could happen within a month.

If so, it would allow Poulsbo to take advantage of its current AA bond rating, a high rating secured by fiscal conservatism and a diverse tax base. Poulsbo Council Member Ed Stern has called for a pause on the project. He’s recommending the city refocus itself on other revitalization efforts and the addition of a Harrison Medical Center campus; he wants to try for the same high bond rating at a later time.

He and council member Becky Erickson also called for the decrease of budget revenue projections in the face of the slowing economy, and Stern said now is the time to test the city’s income before committing to spending it.

“I’m not willing to gamble on the biggest project that Poulsbo’s undertaken,” he said. “It’s not an uncertainty as much as it is I want to double test it, I want to double confirm it, because the world just went through a financial convulsion.”

He added there’s at least one major difference between this current project and those from the Depression Era: “FDR (Franklin Delano Roosevelt) had a treasury he controlled to print money, and in Poulsbo all we have is our citizen tax payer.”

Council members Erickson and Linda Berry-Maraist have each expressed concern at the project’s $16.9 million price tag. Their redesign suggestions, however, were not given clearance by the rest of the council.

Still, Quade says, city revenue numbers are tracking to meet end-of-year expectations and savings continue to be sought as the project moves along. Now it’s simply a matter of waiting out the market for the optimum time. Once that time comes, Quade said, the benefits of building in town will start.

“We’re creating jobs right here,” she said, adding it was never intended to take the jobs of city employees to pay for the new building. “We’re not looking to build city hall on the backs of employees.”

A bid for the project’s first phase has already come in lower than expected, and Quade expects the competitive construction atmosphere to continue.

Rick Cadwell, vice president of local builders Drury Construction, said the city hall project would not only employ up to 100 workers for 18 months, but be a boost to area merchants and, in turn, the city via sales tax revenue.

“If the city hall went forward I would guess you could have up to 100 people that would be earning living-wage wages,” he said. “They’re going to walk next door to the coffeehouse to buy their coffee, they’re going to JJ’s (Fish House) to have lunch.”

Executive assistant Carly Michelson said when the city opens the construction gig up for hiring, they’ll most likely choose the lowest bidder with a complete bid, and they’d like it to be a local firm, though there are no guarantees.

Area subcontractors and suppliers would also reap the benefit of such a large local undertaking.

Cadwell referenced the current city hall, a “cannibalize fire station” and said wages and construction costs aren’t likely to get cheaper.

“It couldn’t come at a better time if you ask me,” he said.

Quade herself pointed out yellowed ceiling tiles in her office where water has come through, and said some offices require buckets to catch what falls through the leaky roof. “We can’t even add another telephone line,” she said.

In regards to the council members’ differing opinions, Quade said they represent “a new wrinkle” in a process that has been long, studied and methodical.

Quade added she continues to have “positive talks” with other local government entities in regards to renting out some space in city hall allocated for future growth. To view the City Hall Project Team’s statement on the size, scope and cost of the project, visit www.cityofpoulsbo.com.

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