Should Atherton save money by building only a new police headquarters while deferring the building of its other offices and a council chamber?
Or should the town just go ahead with plans for the joint police and administration/building and planning offices, but use less expensive finishes such as asphalt shingles instead of clay tiles on the roof? Or downgrade the finishes, and also wait on building the planned new council chamber and emergency operations center?
Those are among the options the Atherton City Council will consider in a study session at an unusual time – 8 a.m. on Wednesday, Sept. 5 – but the usual place, the town's council chambers at 94 Ashfield Road.
The council has already approved a series of design changes in its new library that the project's architect and cost consultants think could shave more than $3 million from expenses while making minimal changes to the building's appearance.
The council has been pondering how to come up with a less expensive project since early June, when the lowest of the only two construction bids came in at $56.4 million, 40 percent higher than the town consultant's $40.5 million estimate.
The cuts approved by the council bring the estimated cost of the new library, with design costs and contingencies, to approximately $23.3 million.
The library, part of the San Mateo County Library system, has its own funding source that comes from property taxes that are set aside for library use only.
But funding for the police and other town offices is a bit more complicated. An advisory vote in 2012 said the design and construction of a new town center should be paid for primarily with donations. But Atherton Now, formed in 2015 to raise the money for the civic center, raised less than $7 million of its $25 million goal.
Voters in June 2017 approved spending money already in the town's coffers for the project; that seemed to solve the problem, until the bids came in.
Faced with the reality of having to slash features to bring the cost in line with available funds, the City Council has begun talking about going into debt or spending reserves to pay for the long-planned project.
Before considering the design changes, the council will hear a presentation from consultants Urban Futures, Inc. on options to borrow money. In addition to borrowing to help pay construction costs, the town may have cash-flow problems: It must juggle property tax revenues received only twice a year with the need to pay contractors monthly.
Most of the borrowing options do not require voter approval.
See the meeting agenda on the town's website. Click on an item to see the staff report.