Manzanita voters appear to have shot down a tax increase to fund a new city hall project. The vote was 31.5-percent in favor, with 131 'yes' to 284 'no' and nearly 78-percent turnout, according to updated unofficial election results.

The $6.5 million bond measure was approved by the Manzanita City Council for the November ballot with support from all five members and the mayor. It was the talk of the town, sparking an opinionated back-and-forth over cost-cutting options and a series of public hearings.

“We believe this is a feasible number, but it could be less if needed,” City Manager Cynthia Alamillo said during an August council meeting.

The proposed bond’s funding mechanism was a 50-cent tax increase per $1,000 of assessed property value. The project includes construction of a city emergency hub, police office, administrative and workspaces, multi-purpose room and a kitchenette with storage spaces. The funds were expected to pay for demolition and construction.

Alamillo said the tax would be for a term of up to 31 years for the citizens of Manzanita. Outside grants to lessen the burden on taxpayers were discussed, but nothing has been secured at this time. There was public speculation regarding unseen additional project costs, with some citizens saying the potential added expenses would be significant.

The new facility was expected to be built at 11,776 square feet and designed to meet long-term needs for multiple purposes. The site selected for the project was the Underhill property, featuring a former school building that sits out of the tsunami inundation zone, unlike the current city hall. Much of the public debate centered around remodeling or tearing down the buildings at the site.

This past August, Manzanita Mayor Mike Scott penned an opinion column in which he said estimates put the construction cost for a new facility at $500 per square foot. He said additional funds would be required for asbestos abatement, demolition of the existing structure and furnishing the new facility.

“These are estimates; when we issue the bonds next year rates may differ and the total dollar amount could be less,” Scott wrote. “But right now interest rates are at historic lows. With luck, rates will stay low and the economy will cool off by next summer, allowing us to build at a lower cost.”

Scott also noted that Manzanita currently enjoys one of the lowest property tax rates in Oregon – 42 cents per $1,000 of assessed value. A house assessed at $400,000 would have paid around $200 more a year under the failed bond.

Randy Kugler, a former Manzanita city manager, called publicly for scrutiny of the approach to the bond measure and the city hall project. Kugler served on an advisory committee that explored and recommended options for the project. He supported more consideration for a remodel option at the Underhill property.

After the unofficial vote results were announced, Kugler said he believes the citizens of Manzanita came to the conclusion that city officials failed to present a viable financing strategy and that other building options were dismissed without allowing for public review and comment.

“I repeatedly said during my time as a member of the Public Facilities Advisory Committee that the project had both practical and political problems that the council needed to address before they unveiled it to the public,” Kugler said. “I simply took that message directly to the community once it became apparent that the city had no interest in addressing those concerns.”

The City of Manzanita issued a statement following the defeat of the bond measure. The mayor thanked everyone who voted but said a lack of funding would stop the project from proceeding.

“As the City continues to address the needs for new facilities, we will look for compromise and common ground, working together with the community to find a solution so we can eventually build a great facility for Manzanita,” Scott said.

The election results will be officially certified by the City Council at the December Council meeting.

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