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There will not be a referendum question on the April 2017 ballot regarding possible renovations to or the replacement of Waukesha City Hall.

The decision on what's to be done about the aging building, which is facing mounting and unavoidable repair costs, still rests on the shoulders of the city's aldermen.

That was what the common council determined Sept. 20 when it voted 9-4 against putting a referendum question about fixing or replacing the city's main administration building on the ballot next spring. Aldermen Eric Payne, Cory Payne, Adam Jankowski and Alderwoman Kathleen Cummings cast the four affirmative votes.

The issue arose after recent council discussion and a series of public meetings about the future of city hall. The city is considering several options, including rehabilitating the current building at 201 Delafield St., tearing it down and building a new municipal center in its place or constructing a new city hall at one of two other locations: atop the city's Metro Transit Center, 212 E. St. Paul Ave., or on a vacant lot between St. Paul Avenue and the Fox River across from the transit center just north of downtown.

Costs for all those projects range from about $12 million (for the renovations only) to $22 million.

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'Rushed' discussion

Eric Payne called for the referendum because he said he felt like the council was being rushed into making a decision on the project and wanted voices that didn't only belong to aldermen to weigh in.

"People want to have a say in it," he said, adding that their opinions should at least be considered because taxpayer dollars would pay for whatever the city decides.

Low resident turnout at the four public meetings regarding the city's options also prompted his calls for the referendum, he said.

Cummings, who said she felt like the option to build a new city hall was being "rammed down our throats," seconded Payne's motion to approve the referendum question.

She has said she thinks some residents will balk at the idea of footing the bill for the project, and might even opt to move out of the city.

'Tough decisions'

Alderman Aaron Perry said the decision about the future of city hall should remain with the council. He also stressed that, due to the declining condition of the building, "there is not a no-spend option."

He and Alderman Joe Pieper said they were elected to make tough decisions and would stand by them.

"I'll answer for the decisions I make," Perry said.

City Administrator Kevin Lahner said the city wasn't trying to push for anything.

"We want to take as much time as we possibly can" to make this decision, he said, adding that there is not any money included in the 2017 budget for anything related to the project.

Lahner has also said repeatedly that although city hall will eventually require some expensive fixes, he does not want to pour a significant amount of money into the building if it will not be used long-term.

Project history

The city previously hired a consulting firm to analyze various options for the project, which has been discussed for several years. The completed study outlined the avenues the city could pursue for creating a new multipurpose municipal center.

The new center – if that option is selected – would likely combine various city operations into one building, including current city hall functions, the public works department (which currently uses an annex across the street from city hall), and some customer service personnel from the city's water utility, officials and consultants have said.

Consultants said various aspects of the facility do not comply with current building code and do not facilitate a "customer-first" model of service. Those concerns align with responses from city employees regarding the current facilities detailed in a 2012 survey conducted by Robert W. Baird & Co.

In that survey, many employees cited the challenges inherent in the facilities. Members of the public works department cited customer service and interaction problems, and listed city hall as the most challenging aspect of its department space. The human resources department cited a small conference room as an issue and others cited indoor environmental quality concerns.

Lahner said during the Sept. 20 meeting that the city is only about "20 percent" of the way through the decision-making process for this project.

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