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Ferndale City Hall (2019). File photo - Whatcom News

Ferndale Council hits brakes on skate park – surprised by increase in cost estimate

FERNDALE, Wash. — The regular meeting of Ferndale City Council on Monday, October 4th, took an unexpected turn when councilmembers expressed surprise at seeing a 650% increase in the City’s estimated out-of-pocket expense for a proposed skate park.

City of Ferndale officials were recently awarded a $480,000 grant from the Washington State Recreation and Conservation Office (RCO) to be used to build a to build a 10,000-square-foot skate park at Pioneer Park. During the process of applying for the grant, RCO, the public and City Council members were told the total cost of the park would be about $565,000, leaving the City responsible for approximately $85,000.

At Monday’s meeting, councilmembers were being asked to approve the selection of a design firm to provide the skate park’s design. In a related staff report the total cost of the project was shown as $1 million, instead of $565,000. This would mean the City’s responsibility would increase from about $85,000 to about $520,000.

City Council Staff Report (October 4, 2021). Source: City of Ferndale
City Council Staff Report (October 4, 2021). Source: City of Ferndale

Councilmember Ryan O’Larey asked for the item be moved to the regular agenda. He said he wanted to be certain all councilmembers were aware of this change in the estimated project cost.

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“That’s a $435,000 increase, and I don’t consider that to be a little thing,” O’Leary said. He noted that he is excited for the skate park as he has a son who is a skate boarding enthusiast and he had also seen the public getting excited about it. “But I don’t know that a million dollar skate park is going to generate the same enthusiasm.”

Real Estate Excise Tax (REET) funds are tax revenues collected by cities. During the meeting, City Administrator Jori Burnett said these funds have typically been used for street projects and sometimes parks. Burnett pointed out that 2021 REET revenues as of July 31st were twice what they were on the same date in 2020, an increase of nearly $500,000.

Councilmember Ali Hawkinson said that while the skate park is a priority, people are always asking for road improvements and did not want to see that much in street funding go toward the skate park.

Councilmember Maralise Fegan said she was afraid that if the designers were aiming for a $1 million project, the City would end up with a design for a very nice skate park it could not afford to build.

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O’Larey said, “I don’t know how we go from not discussing it all, to it being a consent item and not really bringing up within our group the implication of a $435,000 increase. The budget is $565,000. That’s what was passed by Council.”

City staff defended the increase stating project costs frequently change and it is typical to budget for a project only to find out it will cost more later.

After a nearly hour-long discussion, it was agreed to send the design contract award back to Council Committee for further discussion. That meeting will be held on Wednesday, October 13th.

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