BY REBECCA PALMER
BOUNTIFUL — In a split vote during a quiet meeting last Thursday, the Bountiful City Council increased the budget for its new city hall from $7 million to between $9.5 million and $10.5 million, an increase of 50 percent.
The council had recently learned that contractors’ bids for the project were coming in at much higher prices than anticipated. The project’s architects PG&W, Inc. had tried to change the design and materials to come in line with cost, but the changes would have meant less space than is available at the existing structure to the east. Read about how the firm was chosen here.
Councilman Tom Tolman believes the change is partly due to the increasing costs of construction, especially since the economic recession has ended.
“You just don’t build a big building like that overnight,” he said. “It’s just been a real struggle and I think maybe some of their numbers that we originally began with a year ago were extremely low compared to what they should have been.”
Plans for a new city hall were initiated when the city realized that the Bountiful/Davis Art Center needed a new home. City leaders first planned to construct a new building for the center and the city’s museum using funds garnered through a property tax reallocation program known as a redevelopment fund. Then, they saw the possibility of building new city offices on Main Street and moving the museum and art center to the building that now houses those offices at 790 S. 100 East.
At first, the price tag for a new city hall was $4.6 million. It then grew to $6 million and then $7 million before reaching the current $10.5 million. Costs to renovate the existing hall into a museum have been pegged at $1.8 million, and are still slated to come from the redevelopment fund.
“The city will ultimately benefit overall because I don’t see the costs going down,” said councilwoman and mayoral candidate Beth Holbrook. “Building a new building is obviously more efficient than trying to remodel a 37-year-old property.”
Councilman Fred Moss voted against building the new city hall in the beginning and voted against the increase last week.
“I don’t believe that it’s necessary,” he said. “The current building is 35 years old. Its got at least another 20 years of good life in it and we could have remodeled that if we needed to.”
Moss also said that a new city hall wasn’t in the city’s 10-year capital facilities plan, and that the money being used for it would be better spent on streets or water infrastructure. This summer, the city council increased water rates during the annual budget process, he pointed out.
Councilmembers who voted in favor of the budget increase say that the city can pay for it using excess money in the capital projects fund, which is separate from the general fund and state laws that govern it.
“We have the money, and that’s not the issue,” Tolman said. “It’s just a matter of having to spend it and be conservative at the same time, and leave elbow room for the future.”
Before voting for the increase, the council considered scrapping the project altogether.
“That didn’t last long, because it just didn’t make sense,” Tolman said. “You just need to put X amount of dollars in to make it something that was halfway decent.”
Moss and fellow councilman Richard Higginson were unconvinced.
“We have the money but we have the money because we’ve been prudent in saving money for the rainy day, but this isn’t a rainy day in my opinion,” Moss said.
The vote to increase the budget will allow engineers to go back to the drawing board, said City Manager Gary Hill, who was hired after original plans were set.
“We hope to have the project out to bid very soon, within the next couple of months, so we can move forward,” he said.