Bexley Council Oks site for police station, debates financing

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It hasn’t exactly been a high-speed chase, but after years of discussion, Bexley City Council is inching toward getting a new police station project off the ground.

Council on June 26 passed a resolution to have the Franklin County auditor to certify the tax millage needed to raise $6 million through a bond issue for the station and other renovations and expenses.

Members also gave their approval for a site plan that would locate the station at the north end of the City Hall site, with the current station to be used for council chambers, city offices and public meetings. The service garage would be relocated to property outside of the city at Fifth and Cassady avenues.

A resolution to have the bond issue placed on the November ballot has been introduced, with a mid-august deadline for passage.

Council has yet to reach a consensus on how to finance the construction of the police station.

Council President Mark Masser, who had previously favored placing the issue before voters, has reversed his position and wants to finance the project with existing funds.

If the city finds that it can’t cover its debts down the road, Masser suggested that an income tax "equalization" proposal made several years ago be resurrected.

The proposal, championed by former council member William Schottenstein, would have raised about $300,000 a year at the time by equalizing the amount of income tax paid by residents who work in and out of the city. Voters turned down the idea.

Auditor Larry Heiser doesn’t think the city should wait to see how its finances shake out down the road when planning the police station.

"It would scare me to pay cash" to finance the station, Heiser said. "I believe we should go to the voters. We need a dedicated revenue stream for the station."

The possibility that the estate tax, a large part of Bexley’s revenue, could be eliminated is another reason to go to the voters for more funds, Heiser added.

Before taking office, Heiser had been opposed to the income tax "equalization" issue because it would have given Bexley the highest income tax of any city in the county.

He noted that Columbus is considering raising its income tax rate to 2.5 percent, and if this happens other communities will follow.

Without additional tax millage, and at 3 percent spending growth, projections show Bexley running at a $613,000 deficit by 2010.

Councilman Jeff McClelland suggested that if the city finances the station without raising taxes, and then later faces a deficit, it could request a tax increase for operating expenses.

Given the choice of a tax for the police station now, or an operating levy in three years, Councilman Matt Lampke thinks that residents would be more likely to support the tax for the station.

Councilman Rick Weber interjected that representatives "are dreaming" if they think that they can stay out of a financial hole for four or five years. He believes that with pending expenses for electrical work and Jeffrey Mansion repairs, the city will be in the red within a year.

Councilwoman Robyn Jones, who did not attend the meeting, is on the record opposing going to the voters, arguing that the city has a $6.5 million surplus at this time.

Mayor David Madison warned about the consequences of going to the voters and being turned down.

"Are you willing to go to the voters and take a chance on never having a new police station?" he asked.

Chief Larry Rinehart said there would be serious ramifications for the community by not replacing the overcrowded, 55-year-old station.

"You will not only have a deteriorating police station, you will have deteriorating police force and deteriorating police service," the chief said. "This will impact the entire culture of Bexley. In ten years the city will not be the same."

Architect David King reminded officials that the station "doesn’t even come close" to meeting building codes and professional law enforcement standards.

Architects are expected to have exterior drawings of the building available for review at the July 11 meeting of the Main Street Redevelopment Commission, to be held at 7 p.m. in council chambers.

Commission Chairman Mike Simpson encouraged residents to attend and comment on the plans.

The commission has already approved the siting of the structure. Simpson has pointed out that the plan would allow the police department to remain in the existing building during construction, saving the expense of temporarily relocating. By keeping the old building, it also provides needed office and meeting space and allows for future commercial development.

Rohyans won’t run

Councilman John Rohyans announced at the June 26 meeting that he will not be running for re-election this fall.

The two-term representative explained that he is nearing retirement and did not want to make a commitment for another four-year term and then have to resign.

He said his decision is not a reflection on his experience on council or his fellow council members, and added that it has been a rewarding experience.

Mayor David Madison said the city and council would miss Rohyan’s service and that he has been "a great addition to council."

Rohyan’s is one of four seats on the November 6 ballot. Incumbent council members Mark Masser, Jeff McClelland and Hanz Wasserburger have all announced their intention to run.

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