Monmouth considers civic center options

New center called 'inevitable'

MONMOUTH -- Since the defeat of a $4 million obligation bond to construct a new civic center, Monmouth city leaders have searched for ways to raise funding for a building without increasing taxes.

Monmouth City Council is considering entering into a public-private partnership with a property developer who would build a complex that includes city hall quarters that the city could lease or later purchase.

Another scenario would see the city sell some municipally-owned property, establish an Urban Renewal District and seek grants and loans to pay for its portion of the complex.

Both options were recommended by the city's economic development commission. The city council is expected to select one of the plans next month.

City officials said insufficient time to educate citizens about the benefits of a new civic center/retail complex to replace the current city hall resulted in the failure of the bond last year.

Councilor and development commission member Marc Miller said the ideal situation is to have at least a year to explore options and convince residents of need.

"A new city hall is inevitable," Miller said. "It (the current building) is deteriorating right now ... we have a timeline of about five to 10 years before it becomes cost ineffective to keep the building structurally safe."

Whatever strategy is selected, Monmouth Mayor Larry Dalton said, the goal is to pursue the same 20,000-square-foot, mixed-use complex at the corner of Main and Warren streets that was proposed during the election.

Under a public-private partnership, the city would lease or sell the land at an attractive rate to a developer, who in turn would fund and handle construction of the building. The city would have the option of a long-term lease on the city hall portion.

Allowing the city to avoid having to manage the property and drawing more private money into the downtown area were among the reasons supporting the public-private option. The downside is that if the project failed, the city would be left with incomplete or bank-controlled offices.

"It's outside the box, but we need to explore all avenues," Dalton said. "The less we can burden the citizens with a bond, the better."

The other proposal is for the city to assume a partnership, line up outside funding and leverage the project by selling city-owned land.

Miller said the city might sell one of two properties -- an abandoned well site in Independence and part of the block that the library sits on.

Another option would be another bond measure. City officials haven't ruled that out, although Miller said the council should wait until 2006 before trying because of Oregon's double majority rule in odd years. In a double majority election, at least half of Monmouth's voters would have to turn out to vote on the measure, with support from more than 50 percent of them for it to pass.

A bond measure in 2006 would have one advantage over the vote in 2004: It would have less competition for voters' attention on the ballot.

"There will be no presidential election," Miller said. "People tend not to not pay as much attention to local issues during those elections."

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