BY REBECCA PALMER
BOUNTIFUL — In a surprise decision on Tuesday night, the Bountiful City Council voted against moving forward with plans for a new city hall.
The 3-2 vote came after the city saw costs for the project escalate from about $4.6 million to almost $10 million. In late July, the city held an emergency meeting on a Thursday night to approve the most recent price increases. Councilmen Frank Moss and Richard Higginson voted against the increase, and the decision kicked off a campaign of letters to the editor and community outcry about the project.
Tuesday, council chambers at the existing city hall were packed as the city considered a final approval of the project’s cost.
Before the vote, the city allowed several residents to speak publicly although the meeting was not a public hearing. Among them was Dean Collinwood, who gathered signatures for a letter against the project. He offered an “alternative B” that would construct a new building for arts and a historical museum with about $2 million to remodel the existing city hall.
About two-thirds of the nearly 100 community members in the audience clapped and shouted in delight when they heard the opposition comments. Many said there had been too little planning and too little opportunity for public comment.
The Bountiful/Davis Art Center had been housed in a building that was demolished as part of plans for the new city hall. Its executive director, Emma Dugal, wanted to avoid delay in the project.
After more than an hour of discussion, Higginson made a motion to table the project in its entirety to allow for more public comment, a better analysis of the city’s need for a new building and a chance to put the project in the city’s 10-year capital improvement plan. Moss, who has voted against the new city hall from the beginning, seconded the motion.
Then, Mayor Joe Johnson called for the votes in favor. Moss and Higginson were quick to offer there “ayes,” but there was a moment of cautious quiet before outgoing councilman Tom Tolman added his own in a quiet voice, sealing the deal for the five-member council.
“I just changed to table it for right now,” Tolman said after the meeting. “It’s still not a done deal. This meeting just brought up a couple questions. I think it can still work.”
Councilwoman Beth Holbrook, a candidate for mayor, has been a proponent of the plans for a new building and thought it was wrong to allow a resident such as Collinwood the chance to throw a wrench into the deal at the last minute.
“I am disappointed at the outcome because I feel emotion was the driver of this issue and there were so many partial truths,” she said. “Ultimately I am disappointed because I think we have done a thorough analysis.”
Fellow mayoral candidate Randy Lewis was not at the meeting, but the four other people on the ballot for city council spots, including Moss, were.
As people shuffled out of council chambers, Collinwood gave Tolman a pat on the back.
“I’m very pleased with the outcome tonight,” he said. “It gives citizens a chance for input. I’m delighted.”
The next steps for the city are unclear, City Manager Gary Hill said after the meeting.