City hall proposal fails by wide margin

City hall proposal fails by wide margin by David Lias Vermillion voters put a stop to the Vermillion City Council's plans to purchase the Community First National Bank building and remodel it to use as a new city hall.

Voter turnout was low � a paltry 16.76 percent. Of the 1,011 people who cast ballots Tuesday, 614 voted against the resolution to purchase and remodel the bank building.

The measure received support from 397 voters.

The city was divided into two precincts for Tuesday's election. Precinct 1 consisted of the Central, Northwest and Northeast wards.

Precinct 2 was Vermillion's Southeast Ward.

Total number of votes cast from Precinct 1 was 524. Of that number, 342 votes � approximately 65 percent � were against the bank purchase proposal.

The percentages were slightly better in Precinct 2, which contributed 487 votes to Tuesday's election.

Opposition to the bank purchase edged out support in Precinct 2 by 57 votes. Approximately 56 percent of voters from that precinct cast ballots against the bank purchase. The measure received support from 44 percent of precinct voters.

"Certainly all of our efforts were to accomplish the goal of having the Community First building and also to renovate it, and the numbers tonight certainly put us in a position where that is not the case," Mayor Roger Kozak said.

"Almost to a person, anyone who visited with me commented that they thought the Community First bank building was an excellent choice," he said.

The mayor said he was told by many people that they believed it is the best location, they believed it is a building that is attractive, functional, and more than adequate to fulfill the needs of the city.

"But also, almost to a person, the question centered around the dollars that were dedicated to the renovation were a concern," Kozak said. "I don't know that I talked to anyone who didn't express that as a concern."

The Vermillion City Council passed a resolution Sept. 2 to buy the bank building, located at the corner of Main and Church streets, for $1.1 million.

In the resolution, the council also agreed to set aside up to an additional $1.1 million to use to pay for remodeling the bank building.

Petitions calling for a referendum on the city council's Sept. 2 action, which was a legislative decision, were filed at City Hall Sept. 25.

And the wording of the ballots in Tuesday's election includes the phrase "with the costs to convert the facility to a city hall not to exceed $1.1 million."

At the time the resolution was passed, it was assumed that the Vermillion School District's administrative offices would also be located in the building.

The Vermillion School Board decided, after the recent failure of it property tax freeze opt-out election, to keep its administrative offices in their present quarters.

That cut approximately $250,000 from the remodeling estimate. That apparently wasn't enough to appease most of Tuesday's voters, however.

"I think we have sort of an unusual circumstance here," Kozak said, "where everyone looks at the option and says, 'that's a real neat option,' but then when they look at what steps would have been taken to really make it the functional building we wanted, they simply said 'that's too much,' and I think that perhaps�encouraged many of the votes to come in the way that they did."

He said he hopes the Vermillion City Council will revisit the issue.

"I'm convinced we need a better city hall," Kozak said. "As I look at our community and the needs of our community and where we want to be 10, 15 and 20 years from now, I'm just convinced that we need a better facility to help us sell ourselves to others.

"We also need that better facility to provide the services to our citizens, so I'm confident the council will revisit the issue," he said, "and obviously they must come up with an option that's going to be tailored differently from the one we just had, because this is almost a 2-to-1 vote saying we didn't accept the first proposal."

Kozak believes that option should, again, involve acquiring the Community First bank building.

"We need to get creative here, and we must look at options that will provide us different opportunities � I don't think a different opportunity for the acquisition of the property, he said, "but I certainly think it will require different options for the use and the retrofitting of the building for the use of the city."

Tuesday's vote was the last � but no doubt the final � bit of input expressed in a very public process in the city.

"We have had both those who are for the project and those who are against the project express what they thought would work," Kozak said. "There are some who think it will become a Taj Mahal. There are some who think that you just buy the building, turn the key and you go to work.

"Obviously, neither of those are a good answer," he said. "It's somewhere in between that we will, I think, come to rest, and I think all parties will say that's fine, reasonable and appropriate."

Reaching that point, Kozak said, will require additional work from the Vermillion City Council.

"I'm sure that we will continue to have discussions at open, public council meetings where others will have an opportunity to share their thoughts and ideas as well," he said.

Had the city council's resolution not been referred and voted down by the public, the city would have taken possession of the bank building approximately a year from now.

"Obviously, the offer was made with the closing date of September 2004," Kozak said. "Now, if something isn't done within the next few months, I'm sure that that will have to be revisited just because it wouldn't be reasonable for Community First to find a site to begin construction. We'll soon be heading into the full brunt of winter."

Vermillion faces no crisis situation, the mayor said, which calls for it to immediately vacate its present city hall building.

"I will remain disappointed that many citizens in the community cannot come through the front door," Kozak said. "I think it's horrible that we don't have a fully (ADA) complying building. But, by the same token, we're not 100 percent out of�compliance so we can live with that situation, but I just don't want us to become comfortable and content.

"I'm just still of the opinion as a community, as a city, we must do better so we can serve all of the people," he said.

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