Merits of civic center weighed in Mountlake Terrace

MOUNTLAKE TERRACE — A few eyebrows went up when Chuck Mellinger and Dave Heppner were named to a group that will try to persuade residents to vote “no” on a proposed civic center.

The businesses they own are listed by city boosters as saying “yes” to the $25 million project.

Mellinger, owner of C&M Trophy, has asked that the company’s inclusion on the “Vote Yes” campaign material be removed. When a city official approached him earlier, he said he thought he was supporting a youth center with a much smaller price tag.

Heppner said he has no problem with the company he co-owns, Heppner Insurance Agency, appearing on the “yes” list. That’s because his wife, the agency’s other owner, is an avid supporter.

Heppner said the point of the process leading up to the Aug. 7 vote is to urge voters to think for themselves and vote their conscience.

“I’m on the side of: Are these changes good for the city?” he said.

The Mountlake Terrace City Council last month approved putting a 30-year bond measure to fund the $25 million proposed civic center on the Aug. 7 primary ballot. The measure requires 60 percent voter approval to pass. It’s two-thirds the cost of a larger bond proposal voters rejected in 2010.

In “Civic Center 101” presentations the past two weeks, city officials have said the new space is needed to house city services that are spread out and in rented spaces. They also noted that taxpayers won’t be charged until 2015.

“It’s not just a building to house city services. It’s a community amenity,” said Councilman Doug McCardle, who serves on the “pro” committee that will write the statement in favor of the facility in the voters pamphlet.

It doesn’t make sense to spend $500,000 per year renting space in the outskirts of the city when they could be using city-owned land and investing in the community, said Dustin DeKoekkoek, a civil engineer who serves as chairman of the “pro” committee.

DeKoekkoek has seen recent projects built for as much as 30 percent less than comparable projects a few years ago. “Now is the most financially responsible time for the city to build as they will get they best deal,” he wrote in an email.

Over on the “con” committee, which will write the statement against the proposal, Mellinger and Heppner both say it’s the price tag that worries them.

In talking with a City Council member a few months ago, Mellinger and his teenage daughter supported the idea of a safe place for teenagers to socialize — a teen space like the former Neutral Zone is part of the civic center plan. But when Mellinger heard about the cost, he wasn’t on board.

The City Council approved increased car tab fees earlier this year.

“It’s a burden, people can’t afford it,” Mellinger said. “Tacking more onto property taxes is an inconvenience.”

Heppner agreed and wondered if the city needs everything that’s in the proposal.

“I’m not dead set against it; we need a place for council and operations,” he said. At the same time, “we need to look at all the options, make sure they’ve been examined and talk about if the civic center is something we really need.”

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