Columbus residents can comment on bond issue

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As Columbus plans for a $2.7 billion bond issue for the November ballot, residents are being given a chance to voice their priorities for the spending package.

A meeting to gather community input was held at the Model Neighborhood Facility on East Broad Street June 3, and a similar gathering is scheduled for June 12  from 6-8 p.m. at the Westgate Park shelter house.

At the events, representatives of city departments are available to discuss the services they provide and to answer questions, and residents can leave their written comments.

Comments can also be e-mailed to Columbusbond2008@columbus.gov.

Officials point out that the bond issue is not a tax increase, but allows the city to borrow for large projects. It is estimated that Columbus, which enjoys the highest bond rating available, would save between $5 million to $7 million with voted debt, in contrast to unvoted debt.

The timeline calls for City Council to adopt the final package in July, with a deadline of Aug. 11 to file with the board of elections for the fall ballot.

Rob  Newman, with the finance department, explained that, with court mandates pending from the Environmental Protection Agency, as much as 80 percent of the next bond issue could go to utilities improvements.

Columbus and other cities are under order to clean up the waste water being released into river and streams.

Preliminary numbers show $1.2 billion being spent from 2008 through 2013 for sanitary sewer improvements if the bond issue passes. Another $900 million would be spent on water system upgrades, and $73 million for storm sewers.

For a $604 million bond package approved in 2004, 30 percent of the funds went for streets and highways; 17 percent went for storm sewers; and 16 percent went for sanitary sewers.

Only 2 percent went for electrical systems and street lighting.

For the next package, $28 million has been allocated for those upgrades.

The allotment does not sit well with some residents, including Gayle Worthington, of the Peacekeepers block watch on the city’s far east side.

Her neighborhood needs better lighting, as well as street paving, Worthington said.

She was also not satisfied with the format of the meeting, which did not include an overall presentation but left residents to wander from table to table, where city staffers seemed to outnumber other participants.

"If you want to sell me, sell me," Worthington said. "They could have trouble getting this passed."

Herb Talabere, president of the Eastmoor Civic Association, did not have a problem with the format, and said he was getting a lot of his questions answered.

But he was also concerned about the proposed break-down in spending.

As he had in a previous community forum, Talabere presented the priorities of his organization that represents the area between Gould and James roads and Main and Broad streets.

The number-one priority of the group is  business district improvements on Broad and Main, including streetscape work.

Their next priority is street repaving.

The bond package earmarks $280 million for the transportation department.

Next on their list is new equipment for police officers.

Ellen Peterson, also with the Eastmoor association, told George Speaks, with the safety department, that she has heard comments from officers that they are frustrated with the equipment available.

Speaks responded that there are items in the bond package for police and firefighters, including vehicles, stations and other items. The police department would benefit from $15 million of the package, and the fire department would see $35 million.

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