A proposal to relocate City Hall and construct a medical office building on Citrus Heights’ civic center site motivated two candidates to challenge three incumbents in this year’s City Council race.
“The City Hall project has created a huge divide in the city,” said candidate Tim Schaefer, president of the Park Oaks Neighborhood Association.
He said the council’s attitude toward residents who opposed the move led him to enter the race for three at-large seats. “So far, it’s been, ‘Dig in your heels and this is how it’s going to go.’”
Incumbents Jeannie Bruins, Steve “Sparky” Miller and Mel Turner say allowing Dignity Health to construct a three-story medical office building on the city’s civic center site at Greenback Lane and Fountain Square Drive would generate $6million to $7million in lease payments over a 15-year period that would help offset the cost of a new $18.9 million city hall, now proposed for construction on property the city would purchase down the street.
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The plan, they say, is in keeping with the conservative fiscal policies they have supported and would allow the city to replace an aging City Hall while remaining debt-free. But all three say they are reserving judgment until they see the environmental impact report on the project, due for release in February or March.
Bruins is seeking a fourth term and Turner a second term. Miller, who was appointed to the council in 2005, is running for a third full term.
The fifth candidate, Bridget Duffy, has also challenged the City Hall relocation project and announced her candidacy during a City Council hearing on the matter in August. But efforts to reach Duffy by telephone were unsuccessful and she did not respond to a written request mailed to her home address seeking information for The Sacramento Bee’s Voters Guide.
All of the candidates interviewed cited fiscal responsibility as a top priority. But Schaefer opposes drawing down reserves to front the money for a new city hall, saying it could leave the city ill prepared to deal with fiscal emergencies. He favors postponing any plans for a new city hall until 2022, when the city will begin receiving property tax revenue that has gone to the county since incorporation. Schaefer said the city should instead direct more reserve funds to a priority he shares with the incumbents, accelerating residential street repairs.
Bruins, Miller and Turner say a new city hall is needed. They say that opponents are a vocal minority of Citrus Heights residents.
Turner said a new building is needed to ensure the safety of city employees and the public. The current building, he said, “is being held together with duct tape and glue.”
Bruins said she is not worried about using reserve funds to construct a new city hall, adding that the city has built up a large reserve. “We wanted it to be a hedge until we get our property tax,” she said, and the reserve would be replenished with Dignity Health’s lease payments.
Miller accused project opponents of misrepresenting the financial numbers and said fixing defects in the current City Hall would cost more in the long run than constructing a new building. But he agreed with Schaefer that the city should hold a workshop to help the public better understand the “complex financial arrangement” that is proposed.
As for residential street maintenance, incumbents said Measure K, a proposed increase in the utility users tax that voters rejected in 2012, would have provided funds to accelerate neighborhood street repairs. The three incumbents and Schaefer said they would be reluctant to pursue another tax measure, but would not rule it out.
Miller suggested the city seek a reformulation of Measure A, a countywide measure that levied a half-cent sales tax for transportation improvements. Currently, Measure A funds must be used for thoroughfares, but Miller said he would like to see changes to allow some money for residential streets.
The candidates also agree that the city needs to diversify its economy to reduce reliance on retail sales tax revenue.
“We have a strong retail base that we inherited when we became a city,” Bruins said. “It is important to keep that healthy.”
But she said Citrus Heights also has office space to accommodate professionals such as doctors, lawyers and accountants.
“Affordable rents draw people,” she said. “We need to make sure that we don’t have policies that detract from that.”
Turner and Miller said they believe the Auburn Boulevard corridor, with recently completed street improvements from Sylvan Corners to Rusch Park, is a prime area for business redevelopment and revitalization.
Schaefer said he would work to establish relationships with companies interested in relocating to Citrus Heights. “We need to raise the median income from what is now about $54,000 a year, and that’s typically two incomes per household,” he said.
The candidates stressed the need for the next council to focus on future leadership of the city, saying they anticipate that the city manager and other top managers may retire in the next four years.
Turner said efforts also should be made to help prepare residents for civic leadership roles, including City Council positions. He proposes to work with the Citrus Heights Regional Chamber of Commerce to re-establish a leadership training program.
Call The Bee’s Cathy Locke, (916)321-5287.