Council delays vote on road funds request

Columbus city councilmen want to continue fixing the city’s crumbling streets, but they’re taking more time to digest a $5 million request presented Tuesday night.

The $5 million for street overlay and repair wasn’t budgeted for 2015 last fall. It would come out as an additional appropriation from the city’s general fund cash reserves, which currently are at $14.2 million and will decrease by $670,000 after the city pays for sewer repair, overtime for city firefighters and body cameras for city police officers.

That means if the council approves the entire request, the city’s cash reserves would drop to about $8.5 million, well under the figure the seven-member panel would be comfortable seeing, council President Tim Shuffett said.

Mayor Kristen Brown said Tuesday that the city is “sitting on very, very healthy cash balances” and that she thinks the general fund easily can absorb the expense.

“We’re not going to get close to running it down,” she said, adding that the city wouldn’t pay the sum until after receiving its first round of property tax payments in May.

And she asked council members what exactly they needed with more time to consider.

Clerk-Treasurer Luann Wel-mer said she thinks more discussion would be beneficial because the proposal is a large project and she would like to see the request sized down to a figure somewhere between $3 million and $4 million.

The initial request is a big number to be looking at just two months into to the year, especially considering that the city likely will have more additional appropriations, Welmer said, pointing to more than $5 million in unplanned spending last year.

City officials should keep closer to $10 million in the general fund reserves for emergencies, especially considering that the city hasn’t transferred any money to its rainy day fund since 2012, Welmer said.

And even if the council was fully comfortable spending the full $5 million, it didn’t have enough time to process the figure during the few days councilmen had between receiving the request and the Tuesday night meeting, city Councilman Jim Lienhoop said.

“It’s a lot of money, and I think it deserves that we should examine it thoroughly,” he said.

Some council members also said they would like to see a three- to five-year plan for tackling long-deferred repairs to city streets.

Councilman Ryan Brand said it would be helpful to have something to reference, comparing the ideal document to the Transportation Improvement Plan used by the Columbus Area Metropolitan Planning Organization.

That would help the council know what the appropriation could potentially look like and help the city engineer’s office forecast work for the year ahead, Brand said.

Randy Sims, senior engineering technician, said while it would help to have a five-year plan, he’d like to get started on this year’s work when school gets out. He said a decision at the end of March would give the department enough time to do that, but there isn’t a lot of time to get moving.

Councilman Frank Miller said while he’d like to see a multi-year plan, he thinks the city needs to get started on determining what work it will do this year sooner rather than later. The two weeks between Tuesday and the next council meeting isn’t going to change that, he said.

Sims echoed the need to get started with a sense of urgency.

“We’re going to be driving on gravel if we don’t start doing something,” he told the council.

Brand said the intention is to do something, and the delay shouldn’t affect the project. The council just wants time to ask questions and get answers, he said.

What's next?

The Columbus City Council has delayed the initial vote on a proposed $5 million appropriation for city street repairs. The council may consider the proposal again during its next meeting at 6 p.m. March 3.