Council still debating how funds should be divided for between $17-19 million in capital projects

TIDINGS FILE PHOTO - The future of the old Bolton fire station has prompted continued continued debate within the City Council as it decides what should be prioritized with potential bond funding. The West Linn City Council took another step forward Monday, March 5 in its work to finalize the General Obligation (GO) bond proposal that will go to voters in May.

Several weeks after approving a resolution that set an election for May 15, the council voted Monday to approve an "explanatory statement" for voters that details how the measure would work and what types of projects the funds would be spent on.

According to the explanatory statement, the capital projects identified for potential bond funding would cost between $17-19 million. Specifically, the City hopes to address projects in three categories: "Transportation Improvements," "City Facility Improvements" and "Park Improvements."

After extensive work session discussions about how the $17-19 million should be divided between those three categories, the council ultimately decided not to specify that on the explanatory statement and make those decisions further down the line.

As the approved explanatory statement reiterates, the proposal under consideration is not a tax hike. It is instead a renewal of an existing bond levy of 42 cents per $1,000 in assessed property value that has been in place since 1998. Such a renewal is projected to generate between $15-20 million over about 21 years.

Potential transportation projects include the construction of safe routes to schools as well as improvements on Highway 43 and the 10th Street/Salamo Road area. The West Linn Public Library is the only city facility that is specifically identified as a target for improvements in that category, as the council had differing views on which other facilities should be emphasized. As for parks, the City hopes to refurbish existing park facilities while also enhancing river access and renovating local sports fields.

The council was most divided when it came to city facilities. Along with the library, other buildings that could be targeted for improvements include Robinwood Station and the old Bolton Fire Station. Some community members have advocated strongly for work to be done at both of buildings, with Bolton residents pushing for the building to be redone as a new community center.

Operating under the assumption of having $17 million to spend on a March 1 draft of funding breakdowns, Mayor Russ Axelrod and City Council President Brenda Perry suggested that $2 million be allocated for work on city facilities while councilors Rich Sakelik and Teri Cummings felt that number should be doubled at $4 million.

The council discussed those discrepancies at a March 1 work session.

"I would not put too much into facilities," Perry said. "We've had a lot of pressure on Bolton, a lot of pressure on the Bolton Community Center, but we should look at it as to whether it's valid, not just the pressure we've received from a few citizens."

Sakelik said the City had already budgeted $30,000 to spend on planning and design for improvements at facilities like Robinwood Station and the old Bolton station, so it made sense to continue to prioritize those projects. He was also concerned about people campaigning against the bond if their project wasn't included.

"If we slight one group, I think we'll have negativity out there," he said.

Both Perry and Axelrod were concerned about how work on Highway 43 might impact the old Bolton station, and suggested it might be better to completely rebuild on the property and pursue a public-private partnership on the property.

"If we have a plan for a possible public private partnership to rebuild on the old Bolton fire house property, that would be coordinated with Highway 43 widening that's coming and impacting this property significantly," Axelrod said. "We'd actually create some space and build something there that would generate income for property."

He added that he would be willing to allocate more of the GO bond money to city facilities if that type of project were to be pursued. Exact funding allocations will ultimately be decided by the council if the bond is approved by voters.

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