April 13, 1998

Front Page

Budget uncertainties surround police station

Mayor downplays possible overruns

By Andrew Walgamott
Staff reporter

   BOTHELL--As the Bothell City Council awaits complete cost projections on the public safety facility, at least one councilmember was admitting a mistake was made in not having better estimates done before the $9.7 million bond was sent to voters last year. Councilman Mike Noblet said that when the council considered the police station bond, it didn't have the dollars to spend on a more detailed cost study. "In retrospect we wanted something to happen, but in reality we didn't have enough of the details," Noblet said. Instead the council relied on "good faith" estimates provided by a consultant which builds police stations around the country, he said.
   The latest estimates from city consultants show the new police station/municipal court as proposed costing at least $1.3 million above the $9.7 million voter-approved bond. Noblet said at the time the city was also being driven by a lease on the current police station that expires December 31, 1999. "We were caught in a double-edged sword." He noted in hindsight that "Terry was right." By "Terry," Noblet means Councilman Terry Olsen who was the only councilmember to vote against sending the bond to voters last year. "When $9.7 million was proposed I believed that insufficient work had been done to properly estimate costs. I believed better cost estimates should've been done prior to going to voters," Olsen said last week. He says the project as proposed could end up costing $2 million above the original bond amount. City documents show that it is at least $1.3 million above costs now. About $800,000 of that is related to construction costs.
   Plans for the facility have changed. Originally, the Washington Federal Bank was going to be remodeled for a municipal court. But according to the most recent plans, a new court would be built near the site of the former Allen Building. Olsen believed the change would add hundreds of thousands of dollars to the cost of the project. The police station has also shrunk by 4,000 square-feet to 25,000 square-feet. Costs above the $1.3 million include undergrounding overhead utilities and widening N.E. 185th St., both required by city codes. A parking analysis being done to find replacement parking for city employees may show that more real estate needs to be bought as well.Though the City Council has yet to decide whether to build an over-budget facility, the overruns would force the council to either find additional funding or pare the proposed project back.
   Mayor, chief say not over budget
   Mayor Debbie Treen and Police Chief Mark Ericks characterized newspaper headlines that said the police station was overbudget as "misleading" and "not true." Ericks said that final estimates are still in the process of being refined. He used the analogy of a couple setting a budget of $20,000 for buying a new car and then finding out at the dealer it was $300 more for a CD player or better tires, $100 for anti-lock braking and $200 for dual air bags to explain how costs could rise. "I think we need the airbags, maybe not the CD, but as a safety issue, we need the ABS," Ericks said, raising the vehicle's cost to $23,000. "My point is that the budget is established when it's agreed upon. We could spend more than the $9.7 million, but if we do it's because the City Council told us to do so at that point," Ericks said.
   A public safety subcommittee, comprised of Olsen, and Councilwomen Wendy Brady and Jeanne Edwards are awaiting complete cost projections before the issue goes before the council. Treen said, "I'm looking forward to getting all the information before the full City Council so we can discuss it." She said undergrounding and street widening were the first things she wanted to discuss, adding that she said wanted to know where the code requirements were coming from. She noted that just like any other developer, the city could appeal.
   Effect on budget feared
   Olsen noted that whatever is done with the police station will have effects on the rest of the city's budget. "The choices range from scaling back the original scope of work to fit the $9.7 million up to finding the additional funds to do the facility as proposed," he said. Funding above what's budgeted could come from councilmanic bonds which Olsen said would result in an increase in property taxes. That could squeeze the city next year. A two-million dollar overrun covered with councilmanic bonds would raise property taxes four percent over the life of the bonds. Also, police and fire department contract negotiations are coming up next year.
   Councilwoman Sandy Guinn added street and water main replacement work to the list of upcoming expenses that could go beyond their budgets in the coming years. Guinn noted that with tighter finance estimates this year the city may not have a cushion for emergencies. "Are we getting ourselves into a position that we're going to need more retail than the citizen's want?" she wondered. Guinn said she wants the city council to step back, "take a deep breath and do some long range planning."
   Park bond upcoming
   Noblet didn't feel the $9.53 million parks bond the council recently sent voters would be affected by police station cost concerns. He drew a distinction between the parks bond and the police bond, saying cost uncertainties in the former centered on the family community center planned for the Northshore Pool. The center was eventually removed from the measure. He said developing sportsfields and parks, which the parks bond now focuses on, were defined costs rather than those involved in building a highly complex facility like a police station. Treen echoed his comments to a degree. "I think it's something people will be thinking about when they vote on the parks bond. But the types of decisions we make in building parks are much different than building a police station," Treen said. She said there was more flexibility with the many facets of the parks bond than with building a single station.
   Council's determination to build the station appears undaunted. Though he wasn't sure where funding would come from, Noblet said he wouldn't accept building the police a Taj Mahal or a structure that looked like it had been designed by a committee. "I will stand firm on whatever prudent expense is necessary to give the police department a high quality public safety facility," Noblet said.