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TIF funds could rebuild DeKalb city hall

DeKALB – City staff have a few more suggestions for changes to DeKalb city hall now that the police station has relocated, but not all aldermen are convinced they should spend $100,000 to research them.

Aldermen were told Monday that although they thought the only option to address problems at the nearly 50-year-old municipal building at 200 S. Fourth St. was to renovate, building a new city hall could be a possibility.

The building falls within a tax increment financing district, a funding mechanism in which the city diverts property tax money into a special account that is used to rehabilitate blighted areas. That money is not included in the city’s general fund, which council members were told Monday faces a deficit expected to reach about $600,000 in fiscal 2015.

Attorney Kathleen Field Orr explained to aldermen that TIF money could be used to build a new facility as long as it puts a public building onto the tax rolls and uses part of the old building. City officials would consider selling the annex building across Fourth Street and consolidating city operations at city hall, Mayor John Rey said.

Also news to aldermen was that $8.4 million in TIF money could be available for use in the district. Officials previously believed they had $5.5 million to use for city hall renovation. There is some urgency to the project because the TIF district will expire in March 2018.

Before any decisions are made about city hall,
aldermen were asked to spend about $40,000 on a study comparing renovation costs with new construction, as well as roughly $60,000 to complete a study that would lay out how much space would be needed in a new facility. The studies would be funded using TIF funds.

Monica O’Leary, 7th Ward alderman, struggled to see the point in conducting the studies when the city has already completed at least two other building assessments on city hall.

Dave Baker, 6th Ward alderman, acknowledged that some studies have been done in the past decade, but he said he was more concerned with moving forward.

“What is the reality of today?” Baker said. “We don’t know what the current costs are. We don’t know what remodel versus new might be, but I’m really excited by these ideas that are being thrown out.”

Bob Snow, 4th Ward alderman, said he was fine with the justification study, but troubled by the needs assessment study, referencing a $60,000 study conducted by Dewberry Associates last year.

Public Works Director T.J. Moore explained the Dewberry study presumed the city would be remodeling the current municipal building.

City Manager Anne Marie Gaura argued that spending the money on the new studies would be the most prudent thing to do.

“We don’t want to assume, especially with conversations we’ve had with architects, that renovation is going to be less than new construction,” Gaura said. “This would be proving to all of you, as well as to all of the residents, what is the most cost-effective solution in dealing with the issues of this building.”

After more than an hour of discussion, aldermen through a voice-vote authorized Gaura to negotiate contracts with consulting firm McClaren, Wilson & Lawrie Inc. for the justification study and a space-needs assessment.

David Jacobson, 1st Ward alderman, voiced the lone dissenting vote.

Both contracts will come back to the council for approval.

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