Hermiston will be getting a new city hall following a lengthy debate Monday night from those on both sides of the issue.
On one side were residents who are opposed to spending $9 million on a new building, saying the money could be better spent on projects that enhance everyone’s quality of life. On the other side were those arguing Hermiston deserves a city hall worthy of serving Eastern Oregon’s largest city.
Two voices from two very different generations, however, made strong cases for investing in a new city hall. The first was former Umatilla County Commissioner Dennis Doherty, who came to Hermiston 40 years ago. He noted when he first came to town, Hermiston’s tax base was $135 million. Today, it is over $1 billion.
“We want our city leaders to exercise foresight and be fiscally prudent and advance our city interests,” he said. “I trust you to do that and I want you to do that. We’re a growing city. We are somebody. It isn’t a bad thing to have a nice facility that represents who we are and what we stand for.”
A short time later, Councilor Roy Barron, the youngest member of the Hermiston City Council, had his say. He began by thanking those who came to the meeting to speak their mind. Public debate is healthy, he said.
“We are a town that is transitioning into a city,” he said. “We need to ensure the people in our community that we can provide the services they need and that they are accessible.” Barron noted that the current city hall, built as a bank in the mid-1960s, can never be made fully ADA compliant and that people with disabilities have difficulty getting in and out of city hall. There are also security issues that did not exist have a century ago.
“We need a central pillar of government and we need the people’s house to be a house we can all be proud of,” he said.
Hermiston Mayor Dave Drotzmann said investing in a new city hall does not mean other projects aimed at improving quality of life will not get funded, and added that plans for a new city hall had been in the works long before the December fire that damaged the building.
“This is not about us wanting a new shiny building,” he said. “We’re just trying to create a space for staff where they can do their work, and that is accessible to the public. Do we continue to invest in an old, dilapidated building or do we do the right thing for our staff and the community?”
Drotzmann noted that with interest rates as low as they are, now is the time to act.
The council voted unanimously to approve plans to build a new, 22,000-square-foot building on the current site. Some contingencies were included, such as a final cost estimate not to exceed $9 million. There will also be another government entity not publicly named that will lease part of the new city hall to help offset some costs. The bulk of the costs will be paid for through dedicated fee payments from the Greater Hermiston Enterprise Zone. No new taxes will be collected to pay for it.
Money will also be spent to renovate the Hermiston Public Library. Plans also call for Hermiston Municipal Court to share space in the new city hall, freeing up space in the police department where the court is currently held.