Council revisits, approves contract for LL Sports Fields
By Craig Howard
On a night when voters weighed in on an array of candidates and initiatives, the Liberty Lake City Council cleared the way for a capital project on a revived ballot.
By a vote of 5-2, the governing board approved the base contract for phase one of the Liberty Lake Sports Fields, one week after a split vote had cast an uncertain light on the future of the project. Tuesday's decision – on the eve of a general election – took up the bulk of a short meeting and included a green light from council on a trio of add-ons that will set aside a total of $794,258.51 for two baseball diamonds, a parking lot and paved walking path.
"It's your job to spend the public's money," said Pat Dockrey, one of several sport field advocates to voice an opinion prior to the vote. "All of these issues have been on the table for two years."
Council Member Shane Brickner – who joined Dan Dunne and Cris Kaminskas in voting for the project on Oct. 29 – expressed disappointment in council's stonewalling of the vote last week. He noted that the city has already spent over $71,000 on the design portion of the fields.
"This just scratches the surface on what we need for sports fields," Brickner said.
Along with awarding the base bid to KRCI LLC in the amount of $707,223.94, council approved an expenditure of $37,055.83 for a concrete sidewalk leading to the diamonds as well as $11,978.74 for a warning track that will line the perimeter of the outfield fence on the larger of the two fields. A contingency of $38,000 for unexpected project expenses during construction was also approved on Tuesday.
"Let's go forth and build the best field we can build," said Mayor Pro Tem Odin Langford, who cast one of two votes against the project on Tuesday along with Josh Beckett, but joined the majority in voting for the sidewalk, warning track and contingency.
On Oct. 29, Langford, Beckett and Keith Kopelson all voted to table the KRCI contract, expressing concern with the future of fields built on property the Central Valley School District has discussed as the site for a new elementary or middle school. The city purchased the 20 acres from CVSD last year with the understanding that the district could buy the land back.
Any council member casting a dissenting vote on an issue has the opportunity to restore the discussion on that topic at a subsequent meeting. Langford did just that on Tuesday. The awarded bid to KRCI remains valid 30 days from being issued on Oct. 24.
Reiterating what Central Valley Superintendent Ben Small expressed to city leaders last week, CVSD Board Member Amy Mason told council on Tuesday that the district values its collaboration with the city on the fields and in other areas.
"Working with municipalities is great," Mason said. "It gives a lot more worth and credibility to our projects."
CVSD plans to put a capital facilities bond on the ballot in 2015. If passed, Small has said the timeline for construction of a new school in Liberty Lake could begin as early as the following year.
While the district has indicated that fields built by the city will be compatible with any new school project, Langford pointed out on Tuesday that CVSD would spend much less on a similar project as part of campus construction. He also emphasized the "unknown of fair market value" if and when the district buys the land back from the city.
"No one can translate this into a dollar amount because no one knows the date of the sale and there are no sales to compare it to," Langford said.
Langford went on to recommend a scaled back version of the project that would consist of one multi-use field costing in vicinity of $250,000 to $350,000. He added that the city should look at building a larger venue on the north side of town, utilizing funding mechanisms like the Local Infrastructure Financing Tool and Tax Increment Financing.
"I know there's a value to this project beyond dollars and cents," Langford conceded at the conclusion of his presentation. "I get it – it's a good project."
Beckett, who chimed in by phone on Tuesday, warned that construction of the fields could present "an extra obstacle" in CVSD's efforts to have funds approved for a new school in Liberty Lake. He added that soccer, not baseball, should be the priority in budgeting for local sports facilities.
Council Member Lori Olander, who missed the meeting on Oct. 29 with an excused absence, voiced her support for the contract on Tuesday, saying any lingering concerns she had about CVSD not being on board with the project had been alleviated.
"We need both of these fields and more," Olander said.
Jennifer Tomlinson, who served on a city-sponsored committee that studied options for the land and has been an advocate on behalf of baseball venues in Liberty Lake for more than a decade, thanked council and city staff for "sticking with the project" while emphasizing that local teams still lack adequate facilities.
"This sports complex will benefit a lot of people," Tomlinson said.
Kevin Stocker, a Central Valley graduate who went on to play professional baseball, told council that the fields would provide a host site for tournaments and mean that local teams could cut back on the time and expenses now required to travel to venues outside the community.
The council's decision on Tuesday also included a budget amendment that will set aside the necessary funds for the sports fields in the 2014 budget. The money will come from revenue generated through the city's real estate excise tax.
The agenda on Nov. 5 also included a presentation by Finance Director RJ Stevenson and a brief public workshop on next year's budget. Stevenson noted that the city will launch 2014 with $7,918,843 in starting cash. Figuring in overall revenues and expenditures – including the cost of the sports fields, Townsquare Park ($655,000) and paying off the City Hall bond ($677,915) – the city's ending fund balance is estimated at $5,547,793.
Stevenson said there have been a total of 28 mayor's budget questions answered to this point. All inquiries and responses are included on the city's website at www.libertylakewa.gov/finance.
The next meeting of the City Council is scheduled for 7 p.m. Nov. 19.