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June 11, 2014 10:21:26 AM
Bond money issued for road and drainage improvements in Columbus will be split evenly among its six wards.
City councilmen chose that option over a citywide approach to infrastructure improvements during a special call meeting Tuesday.
Each councilman will now meet with J5 Broaddus senior project manager Robyn Eastman to decide specifically which projects will be addressed. Eastman and city engineers previously worked with councilmen to create lists of infrastructure concerns in each ward.
The lists prepared by Eastman included more than $6.3 million in suggested projects throughout the city, but only about $4.5 million will be available.
Last week, they approved a $5 million bond issue and 1.1 mill property tax increase to finance the work. After legal, engineering and project managing fees are taken out of that amount, approximately $4.5 million -- $750,000 for each ward -- will be available for the city to use to address infrastructure deficiencies.
Eastman said he should have the revised lists ready for city engineering firm Neel-Schaffer by Friday, which will allow the firm to begin putting together project packages to be bid out to contractors. Eastman said the goal was to have contractors on site by September.
The city will pay off the bond over 15 years at approximately $350,000 a year.
A ward-by-ward option was chosen in a 3-2 vote with Ward 1 Councilman Gene Taylor, Ward 3 Councilman Charlie Box and Ward 6 Councilman Bill Gavin in favor. Ward 4 Councilman Marty Turner and Ward 5 Councilman Kabir Karriem were opposed. Ward 2 Councilman Joseph Mickens was absent.
Gavin made the motion and received a second from Box. Karriem made a substitute motion to evaluate major city thoroughfares, including Second Avenue, College Street and 18th Avenue North, and address those before dividing the remaining funds evenly among wards.
"Some of these roads haven't been touched in quite some time and some of them are quite expensive to work," Karriem said.
Box and Taylor noted that there are major thoroughfares in every ward.
"I didn't get any help on Ridge Road last year and if it's not a major thoroughfare, I don't know what is," Box said.
"I can give you 10 major thoroughfares in Ward 1," Taylor added.
Karriem's motion failed 3-2 with support only from Turner before the original motion passed.
Citizen input policy tabled
A new citizen input agenda policy is under further review.
On Tuesday, councilmen tabled a draft, which lays out seven terms for anyone wishing to come before the council to speak. The council had previously named a committee consisting of Gavin, Karriem, Mickens, chief operations officer David Armstrong and city attorney Jeff Turnage to hash out a policy.
The policy would dictate that a citizen input application be delivered to mayor Robert Smith's office by 5 p.m. the Wednesday before a regular city council meeting and that Armstrong contact the applicant to determine if any complaints can be resolved in advance. Residents would be allowed to speak for a maximum of five minutes and the topic must be related to city governmental issues and cannot be used to advertise businesses or promote non-governmental events.
The policy item that stirred the most board discussion was limiting citizens to three input sessions per year and charges a resident with one if it makes it on the city's agenda, even if the resident isn't present for the scheduled appearance.
Turner asked for more time to review the document, while Taylor said a maximum of three appearances was not enough.
"I'm opposed to three times a year," Taylor said. "I think that is limiting people that pay our salary to be able to come before the board and voice their opinion."
Smith said if a firm number was not provided, the policy would be pointless because the same people who routinely appeared before the council would still be allowed to do so as many times as they wanted as long as they kept their time below five minutes.
"If you don't draw the line, you're going to have some that are going to continuously come up to every council meeting," Smith said. "They can come 15, 20 times."
Gavin said the terms were drafted to establish order and decorum at meetings and were not directed at the average citizen.
"These rules and guidelines were not drawn up to silence anyone in the city, but I think those of you that attend the city council meetings regularly can understand that we need to bring some sort of order to the citizen input situation," Gavin said. "We have people come up here that don't even talk about city business. In certain situations sometimes citizens get on the input agenda and will come up and have a situation with the police department, public works, one of the councilmen or so forth and will have never, ever have contacted those people to try to work that out. They just want to come up and complain."
Smith repeated that removing the limitation of three citizen input sessions a year defeated one of the main purposes for drafting the policy at all.
"Robert Smith can come up there 20 times during the year as long as I don't talk over five minutes," Smith said. "You're talking about the same (policy the city has now)."
"Then you have a problem that hasn't gotten solved in the 20 times," Taylor responded.
"I just think it's incumbent on this mayor and council where we've got to draw the line somewhere," Smith said. "If Robert Smith has already attended three times, get a spokesperson for Robert Smith."
Councilmen voted 4-1 to table action on the policy and bring it back to the committee for further review. Box was opposed.
Nathan Gregory covers city and county government for The Dispatch.
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