NORTHFIELD CENTER — Township officials say they have to decide what to do about the aging Town Hall after voters rejected a levy to raise $1.4 million for the purchase of a new home for township government.
"We go back to the drawing board," said Trustee Paul Buescher on Friday.
"We took a lot of time coming to decision to put that on the ballot," said Trustee Russ Mazzola, also on Friday, "and it was disappointing that it did not pass. But we understand that the voters were not for it, so we are going to go back, and I think we have a work session next week, to kind of regroup and figure out what we’re going to do."
According to final, but unofficial, results from the Summit County Board of Elections, Issue 3 was rejected 895 to 368 votes, or about 71 percent to 29 percent, on Nov. 5. Funds raised from the 0.47-mill, 30-year levy would have been used to purchase and make ready for use the former FirstMerit Bank building at 9447 Olde Eight Road, across the street from the Nordonia Hills Branch Library.
The cost of the levy to homeowners would have been $14.70 annually per $100,000 in market value of a home.
"All options are on the table except the purchase of the bank building," said Buescher.
Buescher said that no matter what the township decides, it will have to go back to the voters next year for funding, "Whether it’s building a new town hall, renovating the old one, demolishing the old one, they are all on the table and they all require voter approval for the money," he said.
Township officials say the current Town Hall on Brandywine Road just south of the intersection with Route 82 and Olde Eight Road, which was built in 1910, has had a variety of issues estimates say could cost as much as $1 million to deal with. These include asbestos and pathogenic mold, at least some of which has been mitigated; aging heating, air conditioning and drainage systems; lack of federal Americans with Disabilities Act accessibility; pest and vermin problems; difficulties in adapting a building originally designed as a community center and theater for modern government use; a lack of security for staff; and energy inefficiency.
In addition, township officials have said, the estimates do not necessarily factor in all costs, including making the building fully functional for government use, as well as the cost of relocating staff to another location temporarily while renovations are taking place.
Also, officials say state law would only allow renovations of the existing structure to be financed over seven years, not 30 years as allowed for purchase of a new building. So even if renovating the existing building could be done for less money, officials say the cost could not be spread out over a longer period of time and would therefore come at a much higher cost per year to property owners.
"The issues of the Town Hall don’t go away," said Mazzola. "So we have to look at what our other options would be. We have constraints over what we can do with that Town Hall. Anything over $50,000 requires voter approval, so if we want to put anything into the existing Town Hall, we have to go back to the voters."
Trustees say the levy was necessary because there is little discretionary funding, with 83 percent of revenue from various tax levies earmarked for specific purposes, such as roads, policing, fire and EMS.
The bank building, meanwhile, has been touted by trustees as a desirable property due to its location near both the library and school district central offices, creating a government corridor along Olde Eight Road, and it would not have been impacted if the state ever widened Route 82.
In addition, the building, which was constructed in 1973 and has been vacant for more than a decade, is encased in thick concrete, making it structurally sound. Officials say it has updated systems and had a recent roof replacement and waterproofing.
The building has more than 6,000 square feet of space which could have been configured to suit the township’s needs at a cost that has been factored into the purchase price, and could also have been made ADA accessible with an elevator that would be installed to reach a basement community room. Additionally, the building has the Western Reserve aesthetic of the current Town Hall, officials say.
"I think it was a very viable option what the bank building presented in terms of location, in terms of operation efficiency, in terms of how we could configure that building," said Mazzola. "But I totally respect the voters and how they voted."
"I’m disappointed," said Buescher. "Not so much at the loss of the levy but as to the low voter turnout for it. Only 28 percent decided this issue, 28 percent of our registered voters. So it’s definitely not a majority speaking for an issue this big. That was the biggest disappointment, that 72 percent opted out of their right to vote on this."
Reporter Jeff Saunders can be reached at 330-541-9431, firstname.lastname@example.org or @JeffSaunders_RP.