The city of Cannon Beach and its residents are embarking on a path to decide whether to spend millions of dollars paid for by an increase in its property taxes to pay for a new city hall and police facility and absorb a utility rate hike in order to ensure it is prepared in the event of a major disaster such as a tsunami.

The city staff report issued Thursday states that the existing city hall and police facility and the city’s water and wastewater systems would not withstand such an event. 

The projected cost of both the new facility and the improved water system could be in the $40 million range, the report states.

In an effort to help council decide which direction to take moving forward, the city is inviting the public to attend a series of meetings on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday at 5:30 p.m. in the council chambers.

The council work sessions will include a workshop on Wednesday at which the public will be asked to provide comment. City Manager Bruce St. Denis will make a presentation on the options at Monday’s meeting.

A third so-called “Big Ticket” item open for discussion at these meetings is the proposed Cannon Beach Elementary School Project, perhaps to become an event center or park, which the Transient Room Tax could fund, as stated in the report. However, the city’s general fund money might have to fund some or all of the project, in the event the TRT does cannot be used to pay for the work.

The city staff report that explains the funding options of these proposed projects in detail is posted on the city’s website in the work session packet for the Dec. 10 meeting.

In summary, the report states that the existing city hall and police station facility is in the tsunami zone, is about 60 years old and was never designed to withstand an earthquake. The city’s architectural consultants reviewed the efficacy of remodeling the structure but came to the conclusion that could not be done in an economical manner.

In the event of a disaster such as a tsunami, the report states the city hall would become an emergency management center and the police would need a structure from which to assist with public safety issues and “maintain order.”

The city plans to locate the new facility above the tsunami zone.

“Costs projections (for such a facility) range from $15 to $17 million, depending on configuration and location,” the report states. “Project costs are escalating by + $750,000 per year.

“The most likely funding scenario would be for the city to seek a general obligation (GO) bond to pay for the project over 30 to 40 years.”

The voters would have to approve any bond, St. Denis said in an interview with The Gazette Thursday.

“The cost for a home with an assessed value of $500,000 would range from $200 to $350 per year over 30 years,” as stated in the staff report. “It is possible that the city could extend the borrowing period or identify other funding sources that could reduce that assessment.”

The report also addresses funding for water and wastewater system improvements that have been estimated to cost about $25 million.  

“Our water supply system is vulnerable in an earthquake,” the report states. “The water we use everyday travels from mountain springs several miles to the treatment plant; it is then pumped up to a storage tank and back down to the city where it flows through a system of pipes – many dating to the 1960s -- to homes and businesses. Failure of any single component in that system could jeopardize our ability to supply water to the city for a long time.”

A functioning wastewater system is needed to protect the public health, the report states.

“Revenues to operate and upgrade the utility systems primarily come from utility rates for services (your utility bill) and from loans that rely on utility rates for repayment,” the report states.

Although the voters will make the decision whether to proceed with a bond for a new city facility, St. Denis said the “council would make the decision about proceeding with the utilities projects.”

He said the utility improvements would be paid through a “rate hike.”

Asked what he would tell residents who say a tsunami might not happen for 100 to 200 more years, St. Denis said it is a matter of weighing the risks.

“And how much are you (residents) willing to spend to buy down the risks,” St. Denis said.

The elementary school project does not have “the same sense of urgency” as the other two proposed projects, he said. “But people need to know it may cost us more than we are thinking.”

He said although the city has been “talking” about making the city hall and station improvement for about 15 years, this is the first time it has hired “professional estimators (architects and engineers) to determine the cost.”

Earlier this year, the city formed a vetting committee to look at whether the city should proceed along this path and the committee recommended the city go forward with this process, he said.


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