PRESQUE ISLE, Maine — City officials are weighing their options as they consider whether to continue to maintain City Hall at its present location on Second Street or to move city government to a new site. Maintenance costs were cited as one reason for considering a change.
“From time to time over the last decade, there have been discussions about the future of City Hall. It is apparent that the building will need significant investment in the near future. In fact, the city commissioned a study by an architect in 2006 that outlines what is needed. That report can be found on the city website www.presqueislemaine.gov,” said City Manager Jim Bennett in a recent release explaining the decision to look into options for municipal government offices.
Bennett said as a direct result of that report, the city has invested $204,195 into the building, which formerly housed A.R. Gould Hospital.
“In the past few years, there has been significant discussion about whether it makes sense to make the next level of investment into the building,” said the city manager.
He said roofing is considered a need, and window replacements will provide “payback in future years,” while other items, such as changing office layouts, could improve service levels and “potentially reduce ongoing costs.” Upgrading things such as flooring, while needed at some point, Bennett said aren’t considered “mission critical.”
Bennett said cuts to revenue sharing have left the city short on funds for maintaining city assets, such as City Hall.
“While the current City Council members are dealing with decades of historical lack of investment in other city assets, the state began a series of raids on revenues that have traditionally been provided to Maine communities. Initially sold by the state to the taxpayers as ‘temporary in nature,’ over the past seven years, state leadership has used over $6 million in Presque Isle funds to pay state bills. The council made a decision to hold the property tax line which meant some tough choices had to be made,” said Bennett. Those choices include repairs needed at municipal facilities.
Bennett noted that community members have expressed concern over “how much capital money the existing City Hall is going to need.”
“This has been in the back of people’s minds as they consider supporting and making donations to the Community Center project. The city has officially stated that the number one capital need of the city is the new center,” said Bennett.
City Councilor Craig Green said it’s the council’s responsibility to do “due diligence and explore all options to see if there can be a savings.”
“City Hall is nearly a 100-year-old building [built in 1919]. Though it’s currently being maintained, we’re really at a point where further expenses are looming. The windows, roof and steps are major items. Before we take taxpayer money and spend [on repairs to this building], would it be wiser to explore other options and is there a reuse option for the current City Hall building,” said Green.
Green said having a set monthly payment for a lease, as opposed to random repair costs that pop up, especially with older buildings such as City Hall, will benefit future budget discussions.
“We’ll have a long-term project cost for a lease. Rather than nickel-and-diming taxpayers [for unexpected maintenance costs], we’ll have a set dollar amount that will allow us to look at long-term planning and growth,” said Green. “We want to make sure we’re setting good policy for future years.”
Deputy City Manager Martin Puckett said it’s a matter of the city officials considering options and what’s best for the community.
“The idea is to give the public the best services we can in a facility best suited to meet their needs,” said Puckett. Should City Hall be moved to a new location, Puckett said the Second Street building could then be sold for any of a number of uses.
“It could be used for elderly housing or apartments, since it’s already handicapped accessible with an elevator to all floors. The offices could easily be converted to suites,” he said.
“We want to be creative and for the public to be creative with us,” said Green.
Puckett said public responses dictated that city officials start looking at their options and consider what’s best for municipal officials and the public.
Bennett said that while the city has looked at different opportunities in the past, “the offers were not significant enough to justify a public discussion and dialogue.”
“In the last few months, the city has received several inquiries regarding both housing the municipal offices and purchasing the existing building. Enough due diligence has been done to cause the council to believe that it is time to do a complete, thorough and transparent review of options,” said Bennett.
“To be clear, no one knows for certain whether the city will actually receive solid proposals or if it will make sense to accept any of them. On the other hand, enough quiet exploration has been done to determine that it is only fair to the taxpayers to openly weigh all of the options before spending any additional capital in the existing building,” he said.
The council will debate the merits of releasing two different requests for proposals at its 6 p.m. Monday, July 7 meeting at City Hall.
“The first proposal would provide an opportunity for individuals or corporations that have available space adequate for municipal office use to offer that space to the city. The proposal may be either a lease or purchase or both. The second proposal would seek information from anyone interested in purchasing the existing City Hall property,” said Bennett.
Bennett said there are several existing buildings in Presque Isle that have potential to serve as the municipal office.