Council discusses city building funding options

Chris Dunham

December 11, 2012

Wayne Allen

PDT Staff Writer

At the last Portsmouth City Council meeting, the Portsmouth City Building Committee presented two recommendations for the future of a new city building, without identifying funding options.

During Monday night’s Mayor’s Conference Agenda it was advised that council should find those funding revenues before approaching the voters for additional money.

The recommendations by the committee included the premise, “To construct a new city Municipal building and city Justice Center on existing city owned property, and only if the existing property is able to accommodate such buildings and parking spaces of this size in accordance with the city of Portsmouth and the state of Ohio building codes.”

The committee specifically recommends the site of the current Marting’s building to be considered for a Municipal building. It calls for the city to raze the existing building on the southwest corner of Sixth Street and Chillicothe Street and request the Marting’s Foundation pay for the razing of the building.

The proposal also calls for the demolition of the building directly west of that location on the south side of Sixth Street (former Babcock building) for parking. It goes on to recommend the razing of the former Adelphia building at the corner of Ninth Street and Washington Street and using that property to construct a city Justice Center.

The report further calls for the creation of a listing of all existing property owned by the city of Portsmouth with the exception of city owned property that is used for right of way purposes, public park areas, municipal parking lots, three fire stations, service department buildings, water treatment plants and facilities and waste water treatment facilities. And it calls for all remaining city owned properties to be sold absolutely at auction.

“The city of Portsmouth shall advertise all property to be auctioned off to the highest bidder. All monies acquired by the selling of these properties shall go toward the construction cost of this project,” the recommendation says. “The Marting’s Foundation shall be contacted to request funding to raze the current structure (Marting’s building). This proposal would be contingent upon the Marting’s Foundation agreeing to raze the former Marting’s building, repair the side of the adjacent building and sealing off and repairing the rear of the existing Marting’s building annex.”

The report calls for the proposal to be submitted to the public for their vote by adding the proposal to the May, 2013 primary election ballot as requested by the mayor and City Council president.

The report is signed by Rich Saddler, Sharon Bender, Sean Boldman and Kenneth Carlson of the city building committee.

City Solicitor Mike Jones said he would be concerned about putting something on the ballot for the public to vote on, without a funding source. Jones then asked to see if anyone had contacted a representative of the Marting’s Foundation to see if they are willing to do what’s being proposed.

“That’s a huge issue. The second thing is we are in a state of fiscal caution. The proposed budget is projected to be $700,000 in deficit. We told the state that we are going to cut our deficit in half one year and get to a zero balance the next year and we’ve got issues with the EPA that are going to be coming up with our long term control plan,” Jones said. “For us to go to the public and say we want a new city building and we’re really not sure how we will pay for it, I can’t recommend that.

Jones said the city’s financial situation makes the council’s desire to put the issue on a ballot ill-advised.

“I think it’s a poor decision for council to put something on the ballot this quickly without having all of the information or a funding source when we are in such a state of crisis,” he said.

Saddler then referenced a previous agreement between the city and the foundation, that as long as the city used the property for government or a non-profit organization, they would be willing to return $1.4 million. Saddler said he believes that’s the impression the committee was under.

Jones disagreed with that impression.

“That is an inaccurate impression. We had an agreement at one point and there was a very strict time line on utilizing those funds for a city building. We then negotiated an extension of that agreement and that was put up for a vote and rejected. There is no agreement with the Marting’s Foundation. It’s their money, they can do with it what they want and the city has no control over that money,” Jones said. “Now, if the foundation is willing to assist the city that’s something they need to be approached about. In my opinion, I don’t think they would be willing to provide that money to tear down that building. I can’t speak for them but, the impression that, that money is there to be used for city purposes is in accurate.”

Councilman Kevin Johnson then suggested council defer the matter to the November election. He said this would give council time to have all of the necessary information to present to the voters.

Mayor David Malone agreed to set up a meeting with the foundation presenting the two options.

A motion was made to bring forth legislation accepting the committees report.

“They (city building committee) did their job, now the city needs to do ours in looking into funding. We need to make that statement as council. I made the motion to first, accept the report and recommendation second for the city to move forward to establish and determine the funding mechanisms and all that entails,” Johnson said.

Johnson’s motion was accepted by council.

Wayne Allen may be reached at 740-353-3101, ext. 228, or wallen@heartlandpublications.com.