San Juan officials debate new city hall funding

SAN JUAN — City commissioners here approved a preliminary funding plan for a new, $7.6 million city hall during a special meeting Monday.

Cris Vela, a director at Hilltop Securities, gave a condensed presentation to the commission, which laid out the funding for the project and the schedule.

The city plans to issue certificates of obligation to finance a portion of the municipal complex project in addition to park improvements in San Juan. The new city hall would be located in the vicinity of the San Juan Fire Department, where the old San Juan Hospital used to be located.

“Along with that (construction of new city hall) we’re going to have a space inside city hall to provide transit terminal services,” San Juan City Manager Benjamin Arjona said.

According to the city’s preliminary financing plan, paying for the construction of the new city hall through certificates of obligation would not impact the tax rate, the utility or sanitation rates.

Coming in at $7.6 million, the municipal complex project thus far has $1.9 million in total grants and another $1 million in remaining proceeds from 2018 COs available for funding, leaving the city with $4.7 million to complete the project.

For the park improvements, the plan calls for $300,000 in funding, bringing the total to $5 million needed.

Following the presentation, Commissioner Jesus “Jesse” Ramirez questioned the $300,000 for park improvements.

“Mr. Arjona, in previous discussions, it’s basically been about the city hall complex itself, correct? Now, in this one, I see that we’re also including $300,000 for park improvements,” Ramirez said. “Park improvements that have already been approved?”

Arjona explained that the baseball and softball fields have already seen some improvements in the forms of the new turf. He said that the parks also need new canopies, as well as remodeling the walking trails leading to the baseball fields.

The city has already invested $500,000 in the baseball fields.

“I think that investing a little bit more onto those fields to make them adequate in the sense that if we’re going to make an expense, we might as well do the whole thing, and not take it in little strides here and there,” Arjona said. “This will give us the opportunity, again, not to raise any taxes, not to put it in the fund balance or the general fund the next fiscal year.

“Instead of asking for $300,000 in one chuck of money, I’d rather put a little bit aside over the next 20 years.”

Following a 3-1 vote approving the preliminary plan of finance, in which Ramirez was the lone opposing vote, the commissioner shared more of his concerns with Monday’s meeting including much of the proceeding being removed from the live-stream video online.

“Anytime that I question things like this, like today that I’m questioning the $300,000 and stuff like that, somehow for whatever reason they edit me out,” Ramirez said. “They don’t want people to know that I’m questioning these things. You’d think that we’re here to represent not only the majority but also the minority as well, and people that are unhappy with the decisions that are being made — it’s like they don’t have a voice.”

The video, which has since been posted on the city’s YouTube channel, shows the presentation by Hilltop Securities and Ramirez raising his concerns with the $300,000, but the video stops abruptly at 10:01 in, before the commission voted on the agenda item.