Columbus to seek bond issue

Columbus residents will have several ballot issues before them when they vote in November, but a vote for those issues won’t mean a dip in bank accounts.

The $1.66 billion, six-issue, 2008 Voted Bond Package that will greet voters Nov. 4 will allow Columbus to borrow money through the sale of city bonds. These borrowed funds will help finance capital projects over an extended period of time.

According to Columbus Mayor Michael Coleman, Columbus is the only large city in the nation that has earned a AAA Bond Rating, the top rating possible, with all three major bond rating agencies.

This superior rating allows Columbus to  borrow at a lower interest rate, helping to fund more projects with fewer dollars.

If voters approve the package, which has been touted as a "no new taxes" opportunity for residents, Columbus will save over $28 million, according to Coleman.

"This is a sound investment that strengthens neighborhoods and saves jobs," said Coleman in a press release.

It hasn’t been a secret that Columbus is experiencing trying financial times. City Auditor Hugh Dorian recently forecast a $75 million gap in the city’s 2009 budget.

Coleman has promised voters that, should the city’s current funding situation not improve, the entire $1.66 billion will not be spent.

The largest portion of the bond package, $1.1 billion, will go towards public utilities projects need to help the city fall in line with orders from the state of Ohio. Those projects include the reduction of sanitary sewer overflows and combined overflows. These improvements, if approved, are intended not only to help protect Columbus’ drinking water, but also to clean up the city’s rivers and streams.

The city also plans to invest a large portion of the bond money in neighborhood projects. An estimated $432 million will fund road and sidewalk improvements, new health centers, new fire stations and recreation centers, and updates to existing fire stations and recreation centers.

The city also plans to invest $124 million of the bond package in the private sector to help leverage investment.

According to Coleman, this investment will bring new jobs to several areas of the city.

The Greater Columbus Chamber of Commerce (GCCC) has estimated that the 2008 Voted Bond Package, if passed would support an average of 5,500 each year over the next five years, according to a press release from the mayor’s office. They also estimate it would generate $3 billion for Columbus’ economy over that same period of time.

For every $100 million Columbus invests, the local economy generates $181 million, says the GCCC.

Voters will not see one large bond issue on the ballot, but rather six, smaller portions to be voted on individually. Those six issues are Sanitary Sewers ($551.9 million), Water ($524.7 million), Streets and Highways ($345 million), Recreation and Parks, ($124.2 million), Safety and Health ($86.1 million) and Refuse Collection ($32.2 million).

The last bond package put before Columbus voters was passed in 2004. Since then, funds from that package have funded sidewalks in front of schools, new construction of sewers as a solution to flooding problems, new fire stations and other neighborhood projects.

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