Columbus council passes $650 million budget

Columbus City Council passed Mayor Michael Coleman’s $650 million budget for 2008 Feb. 4, with plans to propose additional spending by the end of the week.

Councilman Kevin Boyce, chairman of the finance committee, said representatives would attempt to add between $3 million and $5 million to Coleman’s budget and restore some of the jobs that would be cut under the spending plan.

Council members will also be working with the mayor to form a committee to study the long-range financial forecast for the city, Boyce added.

Coleman’s budget had called for eliminating up to 101 full and part-time positions, while adding police and firefighters. The city allocates 71 percent of its spending for its safety forces.

In all, department heads were asked to cut $27 million from budget requests to reach a spending level only 2.5 percent above the previous year.

Typically, council attaches its amendments before passing the budget, rather than afterward. Boyce explained that the city needs to pass its budget by the second week in February, and they didn’t want the debate over the amendments and the financial outlook study to delay passage.

Officials are concerned about the growth of income tax revenues that has dipped from 6.6 percent in 2006 to a projected 3.75 percent for 2008. The income tax is the city’s chief source of revenue, and other funds are also slowing.

“Make no mistake…we will be seeing tough fiscal times ahead,” Council President Michael Mentel warned.

Councilwoman Charleta Tavares promised that the city will continue to fund the basic services for residents.

“Maybe not their wants, but their needs,” Tavares said.

In other business, one resident questioned whether the city needs to build a $14 million downtown parking garage.

Council passed an ordinance, held for a week, that allows for the funding of garages at Front and Rich streets and Fourth and Gay streets.

Approval for the Front Street project had been tabled for a week following objections from nearby property owners Otto and Joyce Beatty, who were concerned that construction would harm their commercial tenants.

Mr. Beatty had requested that the city buy his property, as they had other lots in the area.

Mrs. Beatty also complained about a lack of communication from the mayor and other city offices.

Boyce commented that council members had received a memo outlining the discussions the Beattys had had about the project.

The Beattys did not attend the meeting, but Willis Brown, president of the King-Lincoln-Bronzeville Neighborhood Association, stepped up to challenge the expenditure.

“I’m not saying a parking garage is not necessary. I’m asking, is it necessary now?” when people in his neighborhood are picking cans out of the trash to sell, Brown questioned.

He also charged that no one from his neighborhood is being included in the construction jobs.

The downtown condominiums have their own parking and City Center is dying, Brown pointed out.

Finance Director Joel Taylor responded that the parking is needed to replace the lots being lost due to major construction projects such as a new county courthouse and the renovation of the Lazarus building.

To Brown’s assertion that the garage was a misuse of tax dollars, Taylor explained that the bonds for the financing would be paid off through revenue from the garage, and not tax revenue.

Councilwoman Maryellen O’Shaughnessy added that parking is needed because of the success of downtown development, calling it “a wise investment.”

Councilwoman Tavares called the garages “an absolute necessity…not a wish or a want, but a need.”

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