Monmouth Council approves civic center levy for November

Voters will decide fate of new center

MONMOUTH -- Citizens of Monmouth will decide this fall whether or not to greenlight a property tax increase to finance construction of a replacement facility for the deteriorating city hall.

City council members voted four-to-one Aug. 19 to put a $4 million general obligation bond levy to pay for a new civic center on Polk County's election ballots.

Councilor Marc Miller cast the lone opposing vote.

The council has been vocal about the need for a building to replace city hall during the past several months, and have said the project will help jumpstart commercial development downtown.

They've wrestled, however, with the timing of the levy, which will appear this November alongside a measure from Polk County Fire District No. 1 for a five-year operating levy to fund their struggling ambulance service.

Based on a preliminary estimate, the civic center bond would raise property taxes approximately $1.20 per $1,000 of assessed value.

Councilor Jack Scheirman said two tax hikes in a year was asking a lot, but added that he didn't feel skipping the election would help matters.

Waiting until 2005 to approach voters again -- an odd-numbered year -- would put the double-majority rule into effect, which requires a 50 percent turnout of registered voters and 50 percent approval of the levy for it to pass.

"We have a need now," he said. "In two years, where are the city employees going to be if this building is condemned, in tents?"

Councilor Steve Milligan said he was concerned that the public might see the proposal simply as an aesthetic improvement.

"We have a legit reason to go forward with this," he said. "We have a building that needs to be torn down, that needs to have handicap access and our employees need a safe place to work."

Last month, officials held a series of neighborhood meetings to inform local residents of the project.

Less than 30 attended, though most seemed interested in the idea of placing a 25,000-square-foot, mixed-used building at the corner of Warren and Main streets. The structure would house city operations and provide commercial retail space downtown.

By razing city hall and inviting private developers to build on that and other muncipally-owned properties, Monmouth could potentially double its $4 million investment, City Manager Jeff Hecksel said.

Miller said he didn't feel the input gathered from such a small number of residents, however, was enough to conclude the entire town would support a bond measure and that people would support the fire bond if they were forced to choose between the two levys.

"People will vote for their welfare over a new building," he said.

"I have to represent the constituents I've talked to, and they've said 'no,'" Miller added.

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