City Council Hears Staff’s Recommendation on Community Center Ballot Initiative

Merriam City Council heard staff’s recommendation to move forward with a Community Center ballot initiative at its June 12 meeting. City Administrator Chris Engel provided a summary of the public outreach process.

View Engel’s recommendation to City Council.

View Engel’s Powerpoint presentation.

The City Council unanimously approved a motion to formally hear a resolution to consider approval of a ballot initiative election at its next meeting on June 26. If the resolution passes, the City would move forward with placing this issue on the ballot for voters to decide.

The conversation started many years ago but came to fruition in late 2016 and early 2017 when the Steering Committee presented its facilities master plan and recommendation for a build new option to the community and the City Council. The City transitioned into staff presentations on specific issues related to the renovation/repair and build new options, including a joint public meeting with the community in late April. Additional public input and information gathering has occurred since then.

Based on the information accumulated, Engel presented staff’s recommendation to move forward with a ballot initiative to issue $24 million of general obligation bonds to pay for a new community center and aquatic facility at Vavra park, along with a new quarter-cent sales tax to help cover debt service on the bonds. The election would take place via a mail-in ballot that would be due on Sept. 15, 2017.

 

Development Challenges in Downtown Merriam

Economic development in downtown Merriam is challenging – but for more than just the usual reasons. The combination of downtown’s location in a floodplain and the age of the buildings mean there are number of building code requirements that businesses owners must comply with before they can renovate or remodel in the area.

During his presentation to the City Council on May 22, Community Development Director Bryan Dyer explained that if remodeling or retrofitting occurs to more than a certain percent of a building, or if the building changes use, it has to be brought up to code, especially in the areas of accessibility and life safety. These changes are then coupled with the impact of floodplain regulations and flood insurance requirements, and that creates a situation many small business owners and developers struggle to make work financially.

“Many developers understand the building code issues when dealing with older buildings, but the real issue for us comes with being in the flood plain. There are a considerable number of requirements and associated costs, and it discourages development. There is an interest in developing downtown Merriam – as there is an interest in developing lots of downtown areas right now – but ours has unique challenges,” Dyer said.

The challenges with developing in Downtown Merriam extend beyond the business community, however. The City is currently navigating through these issues as part of the conversation about the future of the Irene B. French Community Center. Because of the extensive nature of the repairs required in the building, if one issue is fixed, a number of others must be fixed too. This makes it nearly impossible to do minor renovations and repairs, which only compounds the problems we are facing with the condition of the building. And although the community center itself doesn’t sit in the floodplain (portions of the property its on do), flooding is a regular issue in the building. The community center has 18 sump pumps, many of which regularly fail and result in standing water and water damage in locations throughout the building.

To view a full list of the issues in the facility, see our Frequently Asked Questions. You can also view a video about the repairs needed on our YouTube channel.

Updated FAQs Available

Thank you to everyone who participated in our public meeting and who has contacted us with questions about this issue.  We have updated our Frequently Asked Questions to reflect the questions we’ve heard recently.

City staff and members of the Steering Committee will continue hosting information booths about this topic throughout the community in the coming weeks.  Come see us at:

  • Turkey Creek Festival – Saturday, May 20 // 10  to 4 p.m. // Antioch Park
  • Party in Your Park – Friday, June 16 // 6:30 to 4:30 p.m. // Brown Park
  • Information Booth – Saturday, June 17 // 9 to 11 a.m. // Merriam Hen House

Staff Presents Mail Ballot Option

During the City Council meeting on Monday night, staff presented a information about the mail ballot election process as an option to explore as part of the recreation facilities conversation.  Although the City is still in the information gathering stage of this conversation, a public vote would be required to implement a sales tax and issue bonds for the construction of a new facility.  City Administrator Chris Engel explained to the Council during his presentation that because this issue is so important to our community, mailing a ballot to every registered voter often yields better turnout and participation in an election than holding a traditional vote at the polls.

Generally, a special election (like what would be required for this issue) has a 90-day time frame from when the City Council passes the ballot resolution to election day.  Mail ballots are distributed to all registered voters 20 days prior to the election and must be postmarked by noon on election day.  To trigger the collection of sales tax, the City Council must approve an ordinance certifying the election and submit it to the Department of Revenue by the end of the quarter.  Sales tax collection would begin the first day following the next full quarter.  This is just a general timeline provided to the Council for the purposes of this conversation – a formal timeline would be established if the Council decides to move forward with this issue and an election date is set.

Video of April 25 Meeting Available on YouTube

The video of the April 25 joint meeting about the future of our recreation facilities is now available on the City’s YouTube channel.  It has been broken into five parts for easier viewing:

April 25 Joint Meeting

On Tuesday, April 25, the City held a joint meeting with the City Council, Parks and Recreation Advisory Board, and the Parks Facilities Steering Committee to discuss the future of recreation facilities in Merriam.  City Administrator Chris Engel presented an overview on the topic, including information about the problem as it exists today, the process the City has gone through so far, and the options for moving forward.

2017-04-25 Facility Presentation – Final Blog

Issue Overview

Since 2014, the City of Merriam has been extensively studying the current status of our aging Parks and Recreation facilities and exploring what the future holds for recreation in our community.  Below are links to all of the posts, articles, and presentations we’ve done on the topic to make it easy for you to get up to speed on this issue.

Overview

Problem: Current State of Facilities

Solutions: The Process

Initial Studies

Steering Committee

Ability: Funding Strategies and Budget Implications