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Numbers only tell part of the story

"We can imagine standing in line for a latte, sometime in the year 2014, and overhearing a few of the locals still arguing:...And another thing - we never did get to vote on that damn city hall. What was it again? $12 million? $19 million?...Ah, Bainbridge, may it never change. And despite the release of final numbers from the city administration this week, the question of how much the new city facility cost - officially, $7.72 million for the building and grounds, $8.54 million if you factor in a few related improvements - we think there's still more to the story.Part of the question reflects the nebulous nature of the term city hall itself. Narrowly construed, it's the building and land and nothing more, so there's your answer - $7.72 million.A broader view suggests that city hall includes all of the functions related to city business. For indeed, what about the police, who were part of the old building but were left behind in the move to Madison Avenue?The paint wasn't even dry in the new city council chambers when the council coughed up another $495,000 for 15 acres of land off New Brooklyn Avenue, the future site of a police station and municipal court building and phase two of the hall project. The city's architects once put the cost for that facility, expected to break ground in the next five to 10 years, at $2.6 million.That's clearly another city hall cost.In the meantime, police are settling into the old hall building, the recent beneficiary of a $200,000 remodel to bring the old dump up to code.Ditto: another city hall cost.And then there will be the inevitable argument about whether or not taxes went up to pay for the project. True, the general tax rate did not increase with the issuance of the councilmanic bonds used to pay for the project. But as always, there is opportunity cost somewhere, the things the money might have purchased had it not been spent on city hall. For example, the estimated $425,000 or so in city hall debt service this year would have funded almost half the city roads program. Or it would cover a tax refund of $21.25 per island resident - enough for about 11 lattes at the T&C coffee stand, or eight at that stand in the Pavilion. But we're getting too fanciful.There would have been obvious tradeoffs in not building the hall - throwing money away on rent for remote office space for the planning and engineering departments, and the silly inefficiency of having city departments scattered hither and yon. And, in the savings column, how do you quantify all that?We like the new city hall for all sorts of reasons, and we think it was absolutely necessary. But the final bill is not $8.54 million.It is at once something more and something less.The cost of the building, like the value of the services its occupants provide, is what you want to believe it is.The challenge now is for citizen and city employee alike to get every penny's worth."

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