March 2021

Columbus City Council OKs $970.3 million 2021 budget after police funding dispute

Courtesy of The Columbus Dispatch
By Mark Ferenchik
March 2, 2021

The Columbus City Council on Monday adopted a $970.3 million operating budget for 2021, including $30 million to help struggling families and businesses affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Council was to vote on the budget on Feb. 22. However, that vote was delayed a week after Council President Shannon Hardin didn’t have enough votes to divert $2.5 million from the police budget.

Hardin and four other council members wanted to delay a police recruit class, transfer the $2.5 million to pay for it and combine that with $7.5 million to create a “Reimagining Public Safety” fund. Many in the community pushed city officials to cut police funding after last summer’s racial injustice protests following the death of George Floyd while in Minneapolis police custody.

But they couldn’t get six-vote “supermajority” needed under the “emergency” legislation process to make the cut. Council members Priscilla Tyson and Mitch Brown, a former public safety director under Mayor Michael B. Coleman, had voted no on Feb. 11 on the budget amendment to delay the police class.

“This budget is only a step,” Councilwoman Elizabeth Brown said Monday before the final vote. “Frankly, we could not make all the changes to the budget we hoped for. But we have this budget before us.”

The council could have passed a budget with a non-emergency ordinance, but that would have held up new spending for another month.

So the $2.5 million was placed back into the police budget. The city charter doesn’t allow the budget to pass on the same night it is amended, so the vote on that was taken Monday.

The council on Monday also approved an $800,000 contract with the Columbus Urban League to continue the Right to Recover program, which helps low-income workers who have been financially affected by COVID-19.

The money will help 570 people with one-time emergency financial relief so they can take time off to recover from coronavirus. Since its inception in late 2020, the program has helped 759 people, including 79% people of color.

As part of the budget discussion, three speakers, including two members of the interfaith group BREAD — Building Responsibility, Equality and Dignity — asked the city council to make sure $200,000 remained in the budget for a two-year contract with the National Network for Safe Communities to help reduce gun violence in the city.

“Gun violence is a public health emergency here in Columbus,” said Dr. Jonathan Groner, a pediatric surgeon at Nationwide Children’s Hospital.

James Wynn, BREAD’s co-president and an elder at the Church of Christ in Linden, said the church has hosted far too many funerals of young Black men.

The money remains in the budget, said Mike Brown, the council’s chief of staff.

In other business, city council approved a 10-year, 75% tax abatement for Freeland Contracting Company and its affiliates to construct two, 12,000-square foot buildings and renovate a 14,918-square-foot Lighthouse Ministries building at 2295 S. High St. Frieland High LLC purchased the property for $1.55 million in November 2019.

Lighthouse Ministries building at 2295 S. High St.
The company said it plans to invest $5.55 million in the project, retaining 121 full-time jobs and creating two new full-time positions, which each of those two new positions paying an average of $31,200.

The abatement saves the company $981,723 in property taxes over the 10 years on the improvements.

Joe Motil, of Clintonville, a former city council candidate and frequent critic of tax abatements, said the company doesn’t need a handout, pointing out it is only creating two jobs that pay $15 an hour.

“You continue to defund public education with tax abatements,” Motil said.

Columbus Development Director Mike Stevens called it a strategic investment, and said in the past five years, 11 companies have moved 3,386 jobs outside of Columbus.

The city council also approved $3.1 million for the Capital Crossroads Special Improvement District and $1 million for the Discovery Special Improvement District for services the Downtown districts provide.

The two special improvement districts provide additional security through its safety ambassador program, while cleaning the Downtown area, landscaping Gay Street and Nationwide Boulevard while providing hanging baskets on High Street and planters around Capitol Square, and helping the homeless population.

Neal Henson, with the Columbus Refuse Division (out of frame ), stands by with a knuckle boom truck to pick up illegally dumped trash while Bryan White rakes it into a pile to be picked up. Members of the refuse division and solid waste investigation division were working to clean up 3 to 4 tons of trash in a culvert that runs off E. Hudson Street in the Linden area on Oct. 28.

The council also voted to buy $80,783 in equipment from Bobcat Enterprises to help clean up illegal dumping sites throughout the city.

So far this year the city has picked up 630 tons of trash from dumping sites and six tons of tires, said Jennifer Gallagher, the city’s public service director.

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