Town hall still debated in Geneva

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Kevin Hoffman
Monday, February 21, 2011
— Dan Lauderdale can't be certain how his support for a new town hall in Geneva Township will affect his political career, but he doesn't mind. The town has waited too long.

A fire earlier this month that started with a police car and spread to the nearby building revealed new problems with the 80-year-old structure. A local committee continues to research the cost of a new building, but until a proposal is on the table, the question remains whether taxpayers will support the project in a sputtering economy.

"It would be very easy for me to avoid this, but that's not my style," said Lauderdale, the town chairman. "We've been avoiding the need for this building too long. We can't hide from it any more, and something needs to be done."

Contractors cleaning up Tuesday after the fire discovered a significant crack in the building's foundation. That came a week after clerks and secretaries there were sent home, complaining an odor was making them sick.

One worker repairing the police department's evidence room found an electrical box closed off by drywall—a potential fire hazard or violation of building codes.

"Eventually the state is going to come down here and make us do it," Lauderdale said.

Not everyone agrees.

Town board member Larry Kulik is a staunch opponent of a new town hall. He said the economic landscape makes the proposal unreasonable, especially when the existing building could be repaired for less than one-quarter of the cost of a new structure.

"More and more people are losing their jobs around here," Kulik said. "Right now the town has no debt, and the last thing I want is to put this town in debt on my watch—especially during these hard economic times."

Lauderdale's biggest concern is making the town hall handicap accessible. A large ramp was built onto the front side during a remodeling project in 1992, but that only allows access to town meetings and the police department.

The city and court clerks and the building inspector have offices in the basement. Disabled residents need to ring a doorbell and wait for assistance down the stairs, where water often seeps through cracks after heavy rain.

Renovating the building is an option, but the cost is too high for an old church building, Lauderdale said. A contracting group in 2008 completed a study analyzing the cost of tearing down the town hall and building a new one, but that was considered too expensive.

Lauderdale said he also wants to find property with more parking. The town hall has about 20 stalls, which creates problems when more than 3,000 registered voters rush to the polls during election season.

Kulik argues that can be solved by using Lake Como Church or other facilities for the busiest days. About four people work full-time at the town hall, he said.

"Only about seven times a year do we need anything larger," Kulik said.

The town board in 2008 developed an ad-hoc committee to investigate the borrowing of up to $2 million to acquire land and build a new town hall. The existing building would continue to house the police department.

Lauderdale is confident he can build a new town hall by borrowing less than $1 million, which might involve spending the town's $90,000 in reserve funds. Borrowing $1 million would increase annual property taxes on a $200,000 home by about $15.24, according to the town board.

The town wouldn't need approval through a referendum, but Lauderdale said he'd prefer to ask taxpayers anyway.

He also wants the opportunity to educate the public.

"I don't think (people understand)," he said. "We need to educate the people in this community for the facility, and we can't do that unless they give us that opportunity."

The ad-hoc committee, chaired by Municipal Judge Scott Letteney, was approved in December to hire an outside consultant to create a better estimate of costs and size of the building.

Last updated: 4:15 pm Thursday, December 13, 2012

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