Independence voters asked to replace cramped City Hall

$1.95 million bond issue on Nov. 6 ballot

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INDEPENDENCE — In the Nov. 6 general election, Independence voters will consider a $1.95 million bond issue to fund construction of a new city hall.

The existing building on First Street lacks sufficient space for city offices, Mayor Carl Scharff said, and the City Council chamber is too small to accommodate more than routine meetings.

During the past 18 months, two separate committees made up of council members and residents have studied the issue and concluded that the building, whose south end serves as the fire station, does not meet the municipal government needs of a city of almost 6,000 people.

Six city employees work in a 760-square-foot office, and the adjacent City Council chamber seats 35, which is not adequate when important issues are on the agenda, City Manager Steven Diers said.

The study committees, after considering site options, concluded that a space directly east of the current facility, across Fourth Avenue SE, is the best alternative.

Scharff said the $1.95 million price tag includes land acquisition, construction and furnishing of the proposed 5,700-square-foot, one-story building with a basement.

“I’m not going to kid you — this will be a hard sell,” Scharff said, noting that Independence residents have recently indebted themselves to build a new school and law enforcement center as well.

In September 2011, voters in the Independence school district passed a $12.5 million bond to build a new junior-senior high school, and Buchanan County residents in 2007 approved a $4.5 million bond for the new jail and law enforcement center.

Scharff said the Independence Police Department, which now pays about $38,000 per year to rent facilities in the county law enforcement center, would likely move into the vacated city hall if the bond issue passes.

In 2008 the city purchased the former Fareway building for $360,000 with plans to convert into a multipurpose municipal building. But in May 2009, voters rejected, by a 3-to-1 margin, a $1.8 million bond to renovate the building into offices for the city and other government and civic agencies.

In July of that year, the City Council voted 5-2 against renewing its employment contract with City Manager Alan Johnson, citing the failed conversion of the Fareway building as a factor in its decision.

Scharff said the city’s Parks and Recreation Department is renovating the former grocery store as a recreation center that will feature batting cages and a golf practice area.

The owner of a home assessed at $100,000 would pay an additional $57 per year in property taxes if the Nov. 6 measure is approved. The owner of commercial property assessed at $200,000 would pay an additional $224 per year.

Scharff said approval of the bond would enable residents to take advantage of low interest rates on general obligation bonds, currently about 2 percent.

The measure needs 60 percent approval to pass.

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