Fiscal conservativeness won out over desires for a spruced-up city image Tuesday at the City Council meeting.
The council voted to build a new public safety building and to save money for two years for an administration building, rather than bonding for it now.That decision was not easily reached, however. The council spent an hour and a half discussing the pros and cons of bonding in order to construct both buildings simultaneously. They also discussed whether to allow contractors to bid on both projects prior to agreeing to commit funds for them.
Council Member Guy Cash questioned whether it was ethical to have contractors bid on the two buildings when the city had not firmly committed itself to funding both projects. He said the council needed to decide whether it could afford to build both buildings or whether it was willing to go into debt to finance construction prior to letting bids out on the projects.
The firm of Ashworth and Knell architects has finalized plans for public safety and administration buildings and was scheduled to release those plans to contractors Monday. Because of Tuesday's decision, only plans for the public safety building will be released.
Based on financial information provided by City Recorder Gary Lewis, the council determined it could release money from its capital improvement projects fund to build and furnish the public safety building but not the administration building. The public safety building will cost between $760,000 and $850,000 to build and furnish; the cost of the administration building was estimated at between $440,000 and $480,000.
Some council members said it was prudent to bond to finance the cost of the administration building because inflation and rising construction costs would increase the cost of the building in the future.
Also, the present city administration building is in extremely poor condition and maintenance and upkeep costs on the building will be astronomical over the next three years, said council member Keith Jenkins. "We're sitting on a time bomb," Jenkins said. "It's scary."
Council member Wesley Rasmussen agreed. "I think we are stupid not to build both buildings now and go into debt a little bit," Rasmussen said. "I think there are times when you need to go into a little debt to save money."
But Mayor George Tripp told council members the city had already acquired a significant financial liability to fund the new pressurized water system and said he was against assuming additional indebtedness. Lehi has borrowed $4.7 million to finance construction of the new water system; however, the city is still well below its debt ceiling of $14 million.
"It has been my whole premise in this city to keep our citizens out of debt," Tripp said. "I've kept the mill levy down, we have had only one increase in the electric department and no increases elsewhere. . . . Our people are not wealthy people. Everything we do to incur debt on them is going to burden them. I don't want any part of it."
Tripp said he favored constructing the public safety building first because of the number of departments it would house - fire, police, courts and ambulance.
However, the community's image, as expressed through its administration building, was also raised as a point to consider.
Lewis said the city administration building is used by all residents - to pay bills, to buy licenses and as a place for public meetings.
A city's administration building also is usually where the first contact with business development representatives occurs. "The (current) administration building hurts this city's image in attracting economic development to the city," Cash said.