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$18 million Quincy City Hall, Coddington renovation no longer funded entirely with Community Preservation funds

Posted by Jessica Bartlett  May 8, 2012 02:41 PM

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Quincy officials will now ask taxpayers to foot more of the bill for an $18 million renovation for City Hall and the Coddington building after plans to fund the entire renovation through Community Preservation funds fell through.

With the urging of several city councilors, Mayor Thomas Koch announced on Monday that only part of the $18 million renovation would come from Community Preservation funds.

Unlike a previous proposal, which would commit $900,000 of the funds for 30 years to paying off the project, now the Community Preservation Committee and the council would decide what portion of the funding would go towards the renovation on an annual basis

The remaining debt would be added to the city’s debt service and be paid as part of the tax burden.

The switch comes after councilors issued concerns that dedicating such a high number of Community Preservation money for the next 30 years specifically to the renovations would limit what the city could do elsewhere.

“The mayor heard this body loud and clear that there was discomfort of placing $900,000 of CPC towards the bond. The strategy there was to pay for the entire bond out of CPC and that was something that a number of members of this body felt was concerning,” said Mayoral Spokesperson Christopher Walker.

Community Preservation money comes from a 1 percent surcharge on property taxes (out of a possible 3 percent) which is matched in part by the state. Annually, Quincy receives over $1 million to put toward historic preservation, the purchase of open space, and the building of affordable housing.

Walker said that if the council chose to commit the full $900,000 annually toward the renovations, that the city would still have $200,000-$400,000 to invest in other projects.

For Councilor Brian McNamee, that ancillary amount was enough.

“In fairness to people who want to see historic preservation, its time to swing the pendulum a little [in their favor],” he said. “But if you’re not going to give $900,000 out of this fund, I would like the bond to specify how much is going to come out of it annually, then we know up front what the taxpayer is committing to.”

Councilor Douglas Gutro disagreed that other options – such as purchasing open space – should be left by the wayside, listing off several parcels in Quincy that the city benefited from purchasing.

He agreed that only a portion of Community Preservation money should be allocated annually towards paying off the renovation projects.

Walker said the Mayor would like to see at least $500,000 dedicated annually.

Yet alongside discussions of how Community Preservation funding can be used is a bill that is pending at the statehouse regarding CPC, which would increase the state match given to communities.

Other changes would enable communities to use hotel/motel tax funds, linkage fees, municipal property sale revenues, parking fines, and private gifts to pay for the Community Preservation projects.

Gutro said that this bill could change the way the city looks towards implementing these projects, and urged the council to wait on passage of the bond until those details had been ironed out and voted on in the Senate.

Although the bill could change how the program works, Councilor Kevin Coughlin said that Community Preservation funds had been used for long-term projects elsewhere, such as Needham and Ashland.

“A lot of good things have been done and have been done in terms of long term bonding commitments. In each of these instances it was only 10 years. But the mayor’s willingness to be flexible, going year by year and looking what funds are available and trying to make a rational approach to that makes sense.”

Although other councilors were amicable to the new idea, Councilor Joseph Finn was hesitant to fund the project at all, saying that the need to renovate was a fait accompli.

Not only did Quincy officials decided to rent other space, they moved council chambers and offices, and closed the old building without so much as asking for Quincy council permission.

“I remember specifically asking that that is not anything in terms of long term decision that this investment would happen [when we paid for an engineer to look at the building]. I was assured that wasn’t the case. Needless to say here we are…it’s gutted, and now you’re here in terms of this bond,” Finn said. “If we didn’t approve this, where do you go from here and how do you pay for it.”

Although Walker said that the conditions of the building were bad enough that things had to be moved, Finn wasn’t satisfied.

Finn admonished Walker for not conferring with the council body, and said he wouldn’t support the $18 million bond until specific language was put into it that specified how much would come from Community Preservation.

Finn also asked for the opinion of the Community Preservation Committee, as they would be the ones approving this funding annually along with the council.

Finn mandated that the issue stay in the finance committee in order to clear up several issues, including how the relationship between the council and CPC might work in the future, what the final design of the renovated buildings would look like, and the wording of the bond.

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