Vision, values part of plan to buy vacant bank building

Wyoming City Council crafts $2.5 million proposal to acquire former RiverBank site, remodel city hall


Since April 2011, the Wyoming City Council work session discussions have involved visioning about the future. Community values that were identified include a safe community, one with rural character, the conveniences of a larger town with a small-town feel, a connection to nature, pioneering history, fiduciary responsibility (high value for dollars spent), and recreational opportunities.

Now vacant, the former RiverBank building in Wyoming could be acquired by the city under a plan that would invest more than $900,000 in the building purchase and another $1.5 million to remodel the existing city hall as a public safety building for police and fire operations. (File photo)

The open work sessions give the council time for thorough discussion and brain-storming.

City Administrator Craig Mattson reviewed the process leading up to the city proposal to purchase the now vacant RiverBank building and remodel the city hall as a public safety facility.  Police Chief Paul Hoppe and other staff made the presentation at Wyoming Area Business Association luncheon the same day.

Council members have tried to identify things that get in the way of vision and success. They developed a strategic plan, identifying keys to success; urgency, matching funds, teamwork, relationships with other organizations, assuming leadership (not laying down), taking some risk in taking advantage of the bidding environment (taking risk).

A vision for 2016 identified what amenities the council would like to see for the community. These include a community center, new city hall, municipal golf course, multiple softball fields (possibly for tournament play), new staff facilities, new public safety headquarters, city-owned swimming pool, park improvements, and completion of the park trails.

2011 Events

Planning and visioning began in early 2011. The RiverBank closed in December 2011. Then discussion began about acquiring the building as city space.

On May 15, the council contracted with BKV Architects to prepare a design and the cost estimate for converting the existing city hall into a public safety building.  There were two aspects to the architectural study: needs assessment, with an eye to projected city growth, and the expansion of public safety facilities for increased staffing.

Part of planning was anticipating the public safety requirements and staff now, with a population of 8,000. Also projected were staffing needs for a city of 16,000 and the facilities for them. Estimates for conversion of the RiverBank space were determined.

A comparison of the cost of city halls, either alone or in combination with public safety, in comparable communities shows costs of new or remodeled facilities.  These range in cost from $1,324,000 (a city hall remodel) up to $8,350,000 for a new city hall/police/fire facility built in 2008. Communities range in size from 2,600 up to 23,000.

The proposal is that Wyoming purchase and renovate the bank building for $921,000. The purchase price for the building is $830,000. Minimal remodeling to accommodate a council chamber/public meeting space pushes that to $875,000.

Fixtures for the building; council chairs, audience chairs, and audio-visual equipment would cost $39,000. Professional fees are estimated to be $6,000 with a building permit $1,500. Combined costs bring the total to $921,500 for the proposed purchase and remodel.

A comparison of construction and remodels since 2002 in five comparable communities locally ranged from $1,324,000 to a high of $8,350,000. The average cost $4,564,800, with the average city population at the start-date of the construction, 8,520. Wyoming currently has a population of about 8,000.

Staffing needs were projected for a community of 8,000 with a public safety department. Also projected were staffing needs for a city of 16,000 and the facilities for them.

Bruce Schwartzman, BVK, said the first step was a look at the existing building which will need improvements, including an updated mechanical system.  There is inadequate office space.

$2 Million Target

When the council began discussions about the purchase of bank building and the remodel of existing building, $2 million was picked as a target.

In the site plan proposed by BVK for the public safety remodel, the extension is south from the existing fire hall. This was also part of the plan proposed in 2003.  Constructions estimates include remodeling existing building, new police garage addition, and new building addition, totaling $1,164,000.

Alternate costs include a new entry canopy, hose tower, new veneer on existing face, and new rear vestibule. Total cost here would be $147,971. Built in is design construction contingency of 10 percent or $110,000.

Fixtures for the remodeled building include police lockers, evidence lockers, and high density storage, at the cost of $56,000.

Professional fees include architectural, legal, permits, furniture fixtures, tech, document printing and cost of advertising for bids is estimated at $99,736. The proposed public safety building budget total is $1,578,357.

The study also compared costs with other communities of similar size. Their new public safety construction costs ranged from $1.056 million to $8.4 million.

The total budget for RiverBank converted to city hall ($921,500) and converting the city hall to public safety space ($1,578,357) is $2,499,857.

This amount would be bonded.

The analysis compared per-capita spending for Wyoming and communities of similar size.  Wyoming spends $533 compared to $520.

Space Needs

Space is the biggest need. By the design only one office would be unoccupied.  Hoppe would like to offer that to the state patrol. Training space is at a premium.  There is no large space in the city to do training. There is space in the plan for a fitness area, but no equipment costs have been included.

Mayor Eric Peterson likes the design but asked about shaving $500,000. Schwartzman explained there would not be enough police space. Hoppe said if the bonding for the building is for 15-20 years, and an incomplete job is done on remodel, it would be difficult to revisit in a few years for a second bond.

Council member Steve Zerwas said the plans would accommodate growth for about 25 years.

Regarding cost, Mattson pointed out the  10 percent buffer. Further, at whatever the value of the bonds are sold, the city cannot go over that amount.

Tax Impact

Impact on taxpayers is what matters most to those who have attended the meetings and voiced opposition to the proposals. The city stands to lose about $11,000 a year in property tax if the building become city space.

However, Council member Linda Yeager pointed that the city would not be alone in lost property tax dollars as Chisago County and Forest Lake School District 831 would also lose tax dollars.

A tax impact for several scenarios was presented. All are based on estimated market value. Capital improvement bonds in the value of $2.5 million over 20 years with an interest rate at 2.779 percent would cost the owner of the $200,000 home $50 a year. For a $250,000 home this would be about $65 a year.

The tax impact on commercial property is also based on valuation. Properties valued at $100,000 would be taxed an additional $42 a year. Values of $250,000, $500,000, and $1 million, would see commercial property taxes increase $118, $257, and $535, respectively.

Several residents who have regularly attended council meetings do not believe the population growth estimates.  One person said that people pay half the property tax in Forest Lake that residents of Chisago County do. This may be due to differences in taxes in the two counties.

Darryl Vincent asked about cities that are returning funds to residents and asked why Wyoming is not doing that.

Of the several residents who attended the work session. Arne Lahd commented during the open forum that this might be a good deal. “There is a lull right now and it might be a good time to make the purchase,” he said.