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Councilors want more information on Robinwood, Bolton station before allocating bond funds

TIDINGS FILE PHOTO - The McLean House is in need of an estimated $75,000 worth of repairs and upgrades, but the council declined to sign off on that allocation at a Dec. 17 meeting. Early in the West Linn City Council's discussion of general obligation (GO) bond funding allocations Monday, Dec. 17, City Manager Eileen Stein said her hope was to receive firm direction on one project — approximately $75,000 worth of upgrades at the McLean House — while continuing to discuss other more complicated efforts.

More than two hours later, Stein was still looking for an answer on the McLean House. In the end, the council's decision maintained the common theme of the night: "Now is not the time."

"To make another decision now doesn't make sense," City Councilor Rich Sakelik said. "We don't need to allocate any more funds. It's not like (the project) is going to get done tomorrow, nor does it need to."

The council's goal Monday night — in what was the last meeting of the year before two new councilors arrive in January — was to take another step toward allocating approximately $2.5 million for city facility projects. The GO bond, which was approved by voters in May, is expected to generate around $19 million in funding for three project categories determined by the council: facilities, transportation and parks.

At a Dec. 3 meeting, the council signed off on several projects — including work at government buildings like City Hall, the police station and the library — for a total of $1.1 million. On Dec. 10, councilors approved a letter of intent with the Willamette Falls Heritage Area Coalition regarding the latter's future use of the old city hall building, and that letter promised to reserve $400,000 in GO bond funds for the project.

That left about $1 million on other "non-governmental" buildings like Robinwood Station, the old Bolton Fire Station and the McLean House. The distinction between government and non-government buildings was necessary because the City chose to use a government bond (the other option was "nonprofit").

Governmental bonds — which are known to generate higher yields for cities that use them — allow just 10 percent of proceeds to be used for either nonprofit or for-profit investment. That means the City can't spend more than $1.9 million on the non-government buildings that were the center of discussion Monday.

The Robinwood and Bolton Stations are both in need of significant renovations that would allow nonprofit groups to operate community centers out of them. The McLean House, meanwhile, is in need of a new paint job and improvements related to accessibility.

A recent assessment from consultants at the Mackenzie group estimated that the needed improvements at Robinwood Station would cost about $1.4 million, while a consultant hired by Bolton neighborhood volunteers pegged that building's needs at around $1.3 million.

"Both community centers are of interest, for sure, but we're going to have to make a hard decision on those because we can't do everything to everything in this pool," Mayor Russ Axelrod said. "I want to have a sit down or establish a process with staff and (community) groups to look at ideas about repairs and improvements and winnow those down to what we can do to best serve the communities."

Specifically, councilors hope to have more of a direct dialogue with staff and volunteers about how to approach and fund the needed repair work at the buildings. They also hope to explore grant funding for other facility projects that might free up additional monies.

Axelrod said that the Mackenzie report on Robinwood Station appeared to contain "a lot of superfluous stuff" and that he believed the project could come down to a range of $600,000-$800,000. Meanwhile, he said the goal for Bolton — which differs from Robinwood in that it is not an active community center — should be to find enough funding to "make it usable."

City Councilor Rich Sakelik noted that the overarching bond allocations — $2.5 million for facilities, $13 million for transportation and $3.5 million for parks — weren't fixed and said the council should slow the deliberation process.

"We're going about this the wrong way. We haven't done our due diligence," Sakelik said. "We haven't put together a plan. We need a 2, 3, 4-hour work session."

During that planning process, Sakelik said the City could include the volunteer groups associated with the buildings and learn more specifics about exactly what is needed and how much it would cost.

City Council President Brenda Perry said excessive focus has been place on community centers.

"I feel like if I asked people, 'What do you want to spend 10 percent (of the bond) on?' they would not say two small community centers," she said. "I love these little facilities, but I'm shocked at the thought of spending a couple million (on them) when we have such limited resources."

Martin felt there was one critical difference between the Robinwood and Bolton stations.

"With Robinwood, they sort of proved they would use it as a community building ... they earned that community center," Martin said. "Perhaps Bolton would do the same thing, but I almost feel like, in fairness, they need to earn it as well."

"We should ask people what they're going to do," Sakelik said. "Let's have information so we can make a good decision."

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