Columbus council puts $1.5 billion bond package on November ballot

·4 min read
City officials earlier on Monday announced that $200 million of the total proposed $1.5 million bond issue would be go toward housing in an attempt to deal with the city's housing shortage and lack of affordability.
City officials earlier on Monday announced that $200 million of the total proposed $1.5 million bond issue would be go toward housing in an attempt to deal with the city's housing shortage and lack of affordability.

Without debate, the Columbus City Council added to its agenda Monday evening and immediately passed as an emergency a $1.5 billion bond borrowing package now set to go before voters in November.

The move comes just a little more than three years after voters approved the last $1 billion for city capital improvement  projects, including things like roads and bridges, underground utilities and improvements to parks.

City officials on Monday announced that $200 million of the total would be go toward housing in an attempt to deal with the city's housing shortage and lack of affordability.

As with $50 million included in the 2019 package for affordable-housing projects, the new ordinance says the $200 million proceeds could be spent on both "residential and commercial structures," by "purchasing, constructing, demolishing, renovating, improving, equipping and furnishing" them, and "acquiring, clearing, testing, remediating environmental issues, extending utilities, and otherwise improving" their potential sites.

On top of the housing funding, the borrowing would go toward: Health, Safety & Infrastructure ($300 million); Recreation & Parks ($200 million); Public Service, which includes things such as road resurfacings, bridge repairs and trash pickup ($250 million); and Public Utilities, which includes projects for water, power, sanitary and storm sewers ($550 million).

Mayor Andrew J. Ginther said earlier Monday that the new bonds won't raise taxes. The city sets aside a quarter of its income-tax collections — its largest revenue source — to repay its debt.

What is being asked of voters is to effectively agree to cosign on that agreement, having their property taxes automatically increased to cover the bond payments in the event that income taxes fall short of projections. That's something that's happened in unprecedented ways because of COVID-19 disruptions to the economy. City Auditor Megan Kilgore reported last week, however, that things were looking brighter for city income-tax revenue, as more work-from-home employees returned to their offices.

Any needed tax increase would "be annually levied on all the taxable property in the entire territory of the city (commencing in 2022, first due in calendar year 2023)," similar to past voter-approved bond issues that have occurred regularly every several years.

That "additional guarantee of the voters to back our debts really helps us in the eyes of the ratings agencies," Council President Pro Tem Elizabeth Brown, chair of the city's Finance Committee, said during Monday's meeting.

Brown said the $1.5 billion would be spent over multiple annual capital budget cycles. "This is not to be spent in the upcoming capital process, or even the next one," she said.

Abortion ruling prompts anti-discrimination reminder

On other matters Monday, in expressing outrage over the recent U.S. Supreme Court decision overturning Roe v. Wade, Brown pointed to anti-discrimination protections added to the city code last year that make it illegal to discriminate on the basis of one’s sexual and reproductive health decisions.

That would include a decision to seek an abortion in another state. The city's antidiscrimination law doesn't protect doctors from providing abortions, Brown said, but rather outlaws discrimination by landlords and employers who may seek to retaliate against a woman who had an abortion.

Affordable housing plan OK'd for Driving Park

In zoning actions Monday, the Council approved on a 6-0 vote — over the objections of some neighbors — a series of variances to clear the way for converting a dilapidated industrial site along East Livingston Avenue in the Driving Park neighborhood into low-income apartments.

Woda Cooper Companies said earlier this year that it plans to spend up to $25 million on the project at 1826 E. Livingston Ave., just west of the Norfolk Southern railroad overpass at the neighborhood's eastern edge.

While neighbors said they feared the density, traffic and crime that the project might bring, council members said it fits in with the city's goal of providing more affordable housing.

"This is how it happens," said Dave Perry, an agent for Woda Cooper.

The development will have 10 single-bedroom units, 86 two-bedroom units, and 22 three-bedroom units, and will have rents targeting those between 30% and 80% of the area's median income, which last year was $46,950 for one person and $67,050 for a four-person household.

Council President Shannon Hardin said he can appreciate the concerns of some neighbors, but he grew up in that neighborhood and "this site has been vacant all of my life," he said. "All of my life."

"I have seen a very fair process," he said.


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This article originally appeared on The Columbus Dispatch: Columbus voters to decide on $1.5 billion bond issue in November