McGlone letter demonstrates how little he knows
As he rails against Rehoboth Beach Mayor Cooper and the proposed new city hall in a letter that he has been circulating, mayoral candidate Tom McGlone demonstrates only how little he knows about Rehoboth Beach and the workings of our city government. As an architect and member of the City Hall Complex Master Plan Task Force, I'd like to set the record straight.
The concept of a new city hall did not just pop up out of thin air or off the top of Mayor Cooper's head as McGlone asserts. In fact, over the past ten years, the Mayor and City Commissioners have recognized and discussed the need to provide vastly improved facilities for nearly all departments of city government. I wish to point out that at present, working conditions in the police department and the 911 Center are deplorable and close to unbearable for the city employees who occupy unacceptable spaces as they try to properly perform their duties. Our Mayor and Commissioners are concerned about the potential liability the city faces given the unacceptable way in which we must handle detained persons. Our facilities for this are totally inadequate.
Because these units of city government are particularly crucial to public safety and for a variety of other legitimate reasons, it was prudent for Mayor Cooper to begin a process of planning for the needed improvements. Late in 2011, he created the task force, composed of knowledgeable citizens and heads of some city government departments. A team of consultants was given an initial contract to assess the existing city hall complex and to determine how best to provide the needed improvements. In taking these actions, Mayor Cooper demonstrated strong leadership.
The initial assessment revealed that it would be more effective and efficient to replace rather than try to update the existing city hall building, and that conclusion is what has led to the continuing planning effort. To be clear, the mayor did not enter this process with a preconceived vision that we needed a new building to house city offices. With approval of the city commissioners at every step of the way, the consulting team has proceeded to develop alternative concepts for replacing portions of the building while keeping all city offices in operation, to prepare building massing studies, and based upon reactions from task force members, to finalize a schematic design. At every stage of this process, alternatives have been accompanied by cost estimates.
We are near the end of the schematic phase. At that point, the emerging design and preliminary cost estimate will be presented and discussed in a fully open meeting of the Mayor and Commissioners, before the project proceeds into its next phase - design development - during which plans and costs will be further refined and finalized.
Rehoboth Beach taxpayers have been informed of this process since the beginning. The agendas and minutes of all task force meetings have been loaded on the city's website. The Cape Gazette has provided constant coverage including graphics of the developing plans. Open discussions have been held in meetings of the Mayor and City Commissioners. Citizens have been invited to tour the existing facilities to see the poor working conditions for themselves. It is clear that Tom McGlone has not bothered to follow the process, visit the existing facility or understand the nature of the problem that city officials are addressing in a carefully considered and responsible way.
As anyone who has paid attention to his years as mayor knows, Sam Cooper is ultra-conservative when it comes to spending. He commits tax dollars and enters into financial obligations with utmost care. This is a principal reason our city property taxes are so low. It also explains how the city so comfortably weathered the great recession.
At a meeting of the task force on April 18, 2013, the mayor delivered a carefully prepared and most thoughtful treatise on current city debt and financing options for the ocean outfall project as well as a new city hall complex and other minor obligations. During that presentation, the mayor indicated that the ocean outfall project would continue to be the city's No. 1 priority in terms of funding. I do not believe that raising city property taxes was listed as one of the options, although I do know that the mayor believes that property owners have a responsibility to share in the costs of major projects that affect them. Most importantly, the mayor's presentation offered evidence that a number of creative financing options can be pursued to enable both of these substantial projects while minimizing the burden on taxpayers. Tom McGlone naively believes raising property taxes is the only option.
Finally, our task force discussions have centered on solving the immediate need for improved city office facilities. At no time have we discussed enlarging the convention center or building a parking garage. Mayor Cooper's position on this has been consistent. He has provided real leadership on the city hall issue and has done so in a most responsible way. It is Tom McGlone's letter and the thinking behind it that are both misleading and irresponsible.
James E. Ellison